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Anna Karefelt:  Stockholm Internet Forum Reminds the Transformative Power of Internet

Anna Karefelt: Stockholm Internet Forum Reminds the Transformative Power of Internet

By Rudina HOXHA 

Anna Karefelt, Policy Specialist at Freedom of Expression/ICT in the Swedish International  Development  Agency (Sida) sat with Follow Business Albania to talk about Stockholm Internet Forum, a platform that pushes the agenda on a free, open and secure internet forward and gathers people from around 100 countries to discuss internet-freedom matters once in two years. 

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Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) dates back in 2011-2012.    

“When Sweden initiated SIF back in 2011-12, it was in the wake of the Arabic spring and in an era of realisation of the transformative power of the internet and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for democratic development,” Karefelt said to the Editor in chief of Follow Business Albania, Ms. Rudina Hoxha in an exclusive interview. 

SIF is organized by Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

“Sida organises Stockholm Internet Forum, because we see that access to ICTs and the internet is a key foundation for development, reducing poverty and strengthening human rights.  In an increasingly digitized world, ICTs and the Internet offer countless opportunities,” Karefelt said.

She detailed in this interview all the issues that SIF has organized in the past and intend to organize in 2021 while stressing the big impact this event has on these matters. 

As the organiser of Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF), since its first edition, in 2012, can you tell us please how did you come up with this initiative which is participated by many world countries?

 When Sweden initiated SIF back in 2011-12, it was in the wake of the Arabic spring and in an era of realisation of the transformative power of the internet and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for democratic development. Since then, the fact that human rights apply online as they do offline has become a natural part of international human rights standards. Over the last years, the threats to democracy and human rights online and offline have grown alarmingly. Globally, we see the freedom online shrinking by the year as a part of a larger democratic back-sliding. At the same time, people all over the world – civil society, governments, private companies, activists, the academia – remain committed to a free, open and secure internet as a driver for development and freedom of oppression. Stockholm Internet Forum provides a platform to push the agenda forward and gathers people from around 100 countries.

How and why the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) is involved in SIF?

Sida organises Stockholm Internet Forum, because we see that access to ICTs and the internet is a key foundation for development, reducing poverty and strengthening human rights.  In an increasingly digitized world, ICTs and the Internet offer countless opportunities: facilitating the acquisition of knowledge and skills, creating financial opportunities, enhancing communication and more. ICTs are a vital component of social and economic advancement, not the least in developing countries. The internet and ICTs provide a unique platform that enables people to exercise their human rights more fully. It allows people to express and exchange opinions and thoughts freely, gather information, participate in democratic processes and organize public protests as well as advocacy campaigns. They are also a very important tool for human rights defenders. In mobilising a broad number of stakeholders through Stockholm Internet Forum, together we defend and extend access to a free, open and secure internet, available for all.

What are some of the major topics SIF has treated and to what extent, SIF has influenced on them?

 Last year, the theme for SIF was the shrinking democratic space online. Over the course of three days, 500 people from 100 countries worked together to identify and form counter-strategies to this negative development. We engaged partner organisations of Sida who are specialists in digital security. They provided direct support to activists, who then could operate more safely. We brought together the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights with Google and civil society to work out ways forward. With this joint effort, we formed a global network of champions for a democratic development online – and offline.

Another topic, which we and the SIF community have engaged tirelessly on is countering gender based violence online – stopping threats and abuse online, and also offline. Thanks to these efforts, over the last years, the issue of gender based violence online has gained wide recognition as a serious threat to women’s health, lives and democratic participation.

 When is the next SIF edition going to be held?

SIF takes place every second year, and is planned for spring 2021. The corona pandemic is accelerating existing challenges. Access to information is, for example, at large scale now a matter of life and death. At the same time, the political responses to the pandemic have brought unprecedented levels of surveillance and data exploitation. We see that the next edition of SIF will address challenges such as these. 

How important is internet in such times of pandemics when all voices count?

Facing this global pandemic underlines the importance of access to the internet, and to independent and accurate information. An effective response to the pandemic requires prevention and counter strategies to disinformation and access to information online and offline – for all. This means that information needs to be accessible in local languages and reach all groups in society.

What about one of the main big problem of nowadays fake news via internet? 

Disinformation on the internet is a massive challenge to our societies – and facing this pandemic – to people’s lives. It causes destabilisation and erupt peoples’ confidence in democratic institutions and processes. It is highly important that governments and the private sector identify ways forward for self-regulation for companies to address this problem. Companies need to have accountable and transparent processes, based on human rights, for dealing with the content on their platforms. And you and me – as citizens on the internet – need to navigate the internet with a critical approach, ensuring that we fact check and do not spread false information.

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