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How the Internet is being reshaped

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The Internet Society (ISOC) has released a report aimed at exploring the future of the Internet. It highlights the need to do more to prepare the Internet for the future and poses questions into our readiness for what’s next.

What factors will shape the future of the Internet?

The Internet Society (ISOC), a global non-profit dedicated to ensuring the open development, evolution and use of the Internet, thinks it knows. In its 2017 Global Internet Report, entitled “Paths to our Digital Future,” it sees a mix of challenges and opportunities in safeguarding the Internet for the next generation.

The report considers the many forces that are shaping the Internet today, from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber threats, Internet standards and the Internet of Things (IoT), to the Internet economy and the rising role of government. It explores how these forces will impact key areas including digital divides, personal freedoms and rights, as well as media and society.  Taken together, these forces will change the Internet in dramatic ways over the coming years.

Some of the key findings contained in the report include:

·         AI and IoT alter lives but could result in a “surveillance society”

Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things hold huge potential to simplify and enhance people’s lives – but only if ethical considerations steer technology development and guide its use.  As AI and IoT enable the collection of massive amounts of personal information, there is a risk that without appropriate safeguards and user control, a “surveillance society” could emerge.

·         Increased security concerns could undermine personal freedoms and rights

Cybersecurity issues will pressure governments to take decisions that could erode the open and distributed global governance of the Internet.  Measures that may be intended to secure cyberspace may undermine personal rights and freedoms. Without a change of course, online freedoms may be nearing a point of irreversible decline.

·         Optimism still reigns

Younger users and those in developing countries are particularly optimistic about the future of the Internet and the ability to use the technology to better their lives and create their futures.

·         The nature of the digital divide will change

As the Internet transforms every sector of the global economy, the digital divides of the future won’t just be about access to the Internet, but about the gap between the economic opportunities available to some and not to others.  The link between security and economic prosperity will grow, leading to the potential of a security divide that separates those individuals or countries who can protect their digital assets and those who cannot.

Outlined in the report are key recommendations for businesses, advocacy organizations, governments and other stakeholders to help ensure that the future Internet remains user-centric and that it continues to work for the benefit of all.

The report notes that advanced deployment of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence will transform whole economies and societies in the coming years through automation and the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. This transformation will change the nature of the digital divide as it has been historically defined – i.e. those that have access to the Internet versus those that do not.

While many in the Internet Society’s global community shared the view that the Internet is facing a period of unprecedented change, they also reaffirmed their belief in the core ideas that have shaped the Internet to date.

“Our extensive research clearly shows that just as when the Internet Society was founded 25 years ago, people believe that the Internet’s core values still remain valid— that it must be global, open, secure, and used for the benefit of people everywhere in the world,” said Sally Wentworth, Vice President of Global Policy for the Internet Society.

Many of the thoughts expressed in the report illustrate a strong, commonly-held belief in the potential of the Internet to continue to bring positive change to people’s lives. Respondents –particularly youth in developing countries–pointed to growth in new technologies and applications as evidence that the Internet continues to fuel innovation, and to the benefits that connectivity can deliver for education, health, economic prosperity and social change.

However, these hopes and beliefs are countered by wide-ranging fears that there are significant forces at work that may undermine the promise of the Internet for future generations . For example, many believe that Internet freedom will continue to decline around the world due to widespread surveillance, Internet shutdowns and content regulation. There is also the view that the media landscape will become more difficult to navigate and that separating fact from fiction will become ever harder.

Some are worried about the threat of new divides and how these will not only deepen existing gaps between countries, but also across society as a whole. In particular, the report explores the emergence of a new security and trust divide characterized by cyber threats that continue to multiply, and a growing rift between users who are security-aware and those who lack the skills, knowledge and resources to protect themselves online.

“We found that people share a sense of both optimism and disillusionment for the Internet’s future in equal measure. While there are no guarantees of what lies ahead, we know that humanity must be at the center of tomorrow’s Internet. The Internet must continue to benefit people and create new social and economic possibilities to fulfill the premise on which it was built. We should heed the warnings in this report and begin to take the actions today that will help to keep the Internet working for everyone, everywhere far into the future,” added Wentworth.

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Small South African town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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10 more African countries join Facebook fact-checking

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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