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How to Restore Trust Into Cyberspace? Beer Has the Answer!

Being right is not enough

Let’s face it, when it comes to digital technologies, fundamental human rights are not on top of the digital agenda. They seem irrelevant and remote, even an obstacle to digital innovation and opportunities. We are quick to pay lip service to them, but we permit the profit motive and stakeholder self-interests to override human rights principles. It does not matter how right and righteous the cause might be; to be implemented, it must be profitable or carry stakeholder benefits.

How do we make digital dignity pay? Beer has the answer!

Beer has the answer!

As digital technologies rose in importance, probably unrelated and coincidentally, another revolution took place, that in our beer consumption. As the negative impacts of beer became more apparent and entered the consciousness of people and their societies, drinking beer became socially less acceptable, and people turned away. Despite our love of beer, its value proposal had turned negative. It was not the beer that was harmful but its alcohol content. The breweries seeing their markets dwindle, reacted by doing something obvious but nevertheless revolutionary. Breweries experimented with taking the alcohol out of the beer. In the beginning, the resulting products were less than palatable. As the pressure for a better alcohol-free beer continued, so improved its quality, and today it is an equal if not preferred alternative to its alcoholic predecessor. Alcohol-free beer has not only become integral to a modern and healthy lifestyle, but it is also an economic success story that stopped the demise of the brewing industry. It is now a source of growth. Doing the right thing became the formula for economic and lifestyle success.

Removing the poison

Stakeholders experience cyberspace as a dangerous environment marked by a widespread disregard for our fundamental human rights. The poison enters the Internet ecosystem during digital gold rush times, when the perceived benefits seem to justify, even mandate a disregard towards the rights and interests of others. It attacks the one thing most needed to keep the Internet going: Trust. Without trust, even the best digital technologies become useless.

Human Rights as the antidote to distrust

To restore digital trust, we must curb or remove the factors that poison digital integrity and trust. We, via governance, are trying to control digital harm through laws and regulations that identify, address, and put sanctions on harmful actions. Still, they are inadequate for restoring integrity and trust. The only way to restore integrity and digital trust is to inject the antidote to distrust, our fundamental human rights, and let them develop their curative powers.

The globally accepted and binding standard for Human Rights, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), in the first sentence of its preamble, clearly defines how and why the UDHR is so fundamentally important to us and why it’s the prerequisite to restoring dignity and trust in cyberspace:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

The 30 articles that follow the preamble spell out the rights and responsibilities necessary to preserve our integrity as persons in society.

Making digital dignity pay

In the same way, brewers managed to restore trust in beer by removing the alcohol; we need to remove the poisonous disregard for fundamental human rights from digital technologies. This will restore trust and dignity in the digital ecosystem while at the same time creating flourishing and sustainable digital ecosystem growth.

We should not be naïve when it comes to digital dignity and integrity. Establishing it requires fundamental changes in how we do business. Change does not just happen; it requires a reason or motive. The main driver of innovation and commerce in the digital ecosystem is the profit motive or to secure specific stakeholder benefits. To affect positive changes towards digital dignity and integrity, we have to make human rights profitable or create benefits. Only when digital integrity turns a profit will the necessary investments be made to establish human rights as an element of digital business plans and policy making.

Digital technologies are achieving only a fraction of their true potential as they face a lack of trust and low level of stakeholder engagement. We are looking with concern regarding our personal, societal, and global digital futures. We see the value of innovations such as AI, blockchains, IoT, Metaverse, and whatever the future will hold for cyberspace, but we don’t trust how they might be implemented and regulated.

We can imagine how much more effective and profitable existing and future digital innovations would be if they took place in an environment of digital integrity and trust. Think of how policies, practices and behavior contrary to the UDHR have increased digital security costs, compromised our human rights, and compromised the integrity of the digital ecosystem. Thinking about possibilities that engender trust, security, and integrity, we can envision the costs and lost opportunities because of the current state of distrust.

Trust doesn’t just happen; it needs to be earned

To get there, we need positive and constructive measures to restore integrity in actions and dignity to ourselves. Instead of demonizing and abstaining from digital technologies, we need to use and promote digital dignity and integrity and the mechanisms that make them pay, both in terms of stakeholder benefits and corporate profitability.

We don’t have to trust blindly. Trust is not abstract; it can be measured and justified by comparing behavior against established values and standards, in this case, against the principles embedded in the UDHR.

To support the creation and building of trust through digital dignity and integrity, the Internet Integrity Task Force (IITF, iitf.online) was created. The mission of the IITF is to unite all stakeholders in the shared belief that, to sustain ourselves and our use of digital technologies, it is necessary to extend the application of our fundamental human rights fully into our digital existence in cyberspace.

The IITF is facilitating a series of open, independent, and broad dialogues whose consensus-based outcomes will inform affirmative actions, such as a Digital Rights and Responsibilities Observatory, a Digital Human Rights Impact Assessment tool, a Digital Rights Curriculum, and a Digital Integrity TrustMark: DISCERN.

A pledge of digital dignity and integrity

The IITF has initiated a Pledge of Digital Dignity and Integrity (see: www.iitf.online/pledge) to promote the key efforts necessary to establish and sustain our digital dignity and integrity in Cyberspace. This rests on accepting, promoting, and extending our fundamental Human Rights into our digital presence in cyberspace. The focus is on trusted digital policies, practices and behaviors for all of humanity with equitable and affordable access for all.

Doing the right thing in cyberspace creates win/win situations for all stakeholders:

  • Individuals win as they can enjoy their fundamental rights in cyberspace, as they do in the real world.
  • Civil Society wins as common digital ethical standards, guided by the UDHR, encourage cooperation and equality.
  • Government efforts to exercise their sovereignty and protect their citizens in cyberspace are guided by the principles of the UDHR.
  • The Private Sector benefits by extending human rights into Cyberspace. Trust, a level playing field and effective legal standards reduce the need for punitive and restrictive regulation and legislation. This makes cyberspace attractive to employers and workers, instills loyalty and offers new digital business opportunities.
  • Internet Governance benefits as the UDHR provides universal standards for digital governance and creates the basis for much-needed trust-based cooperation through joint values.

The courage to fail

The last element of the IITF Pledge talks about the need to act to the best of our abilities as engaged and informed universal digital citizens. It acknowledges the possibility that we will initially fail in our efforts. It encourages us not only to risk failure but also urges us to admit our failures. Our failures will expose the structures and elements that exist that force us to fail and enables us to work towards overcoming them. The ability to recognize and admit failure without being exploited as a weakness by others will give us the courage and motivation to search and jointly implement remedies.

Conclusion

The IITF Pledge is to encourage personal responsibility and promote engaged digital citizenship. Signatories demonstrate their commitment to digital dignity and integrity. The IITF intends to be a community of collaboration and mutual support based on trust and building integrity in governance, business, societal and personal policies, processes, and behavior.

The IITF welcomes engagement in the work of the IITF around the issues of digital integrity and trust, digital citizenship, trustmarks, policies, practices, and behaviors. See: iitf.online and iitf.online/pledge.

By Klaus Stoll, Digital Citizen

Klaus has over 30 years’ practical experience in Internet governance and implementing ICTs for development and capacity building globally. He is a regular organizer and speaker at events, advisor to private, governmental and civil society organizations, lecturer, blogger and author of publications centering empowered digital citizenship, digital dignity and integrity.

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