IGF 2023 Town Hall #39 Elections and the Internet: free, fair and open?

Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (00:45 UTC) - Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (01:45 UTC)
Room I

Internet Shutdowns

Panel - 60 Min


Facilitated by the Freedom Online Coalition Taskforce on Internet Shutdowns, our objective for this Town Hall session is to explore how the multi-stakeholder community (countries, civil society and the private sector) can work together to anticipate, prepare for and where possible prevent Internet shutdowns before they occur, in particular ahead of elections, building on progress to date. This Town Hall session will feature a panel discussion and Q&A, bringing together experts to look at causes, trends and impacts of Internet shutdowns, including on human rights, information integrity and democratic participation (particularly in the context of wider attempts to control the information space around elections). Through the session we will seek to identify practical steps that can be taken, drawing lessons from elections during 2023 and looking towards ‘high risk’ elections in 2024. During 2023, the UK is chairing the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) Taskforce on Internet Shutdowns (TFIS) alongside FOC Advisory Network (AN) members Access Now and the Global Network Initiative. TFIS serves as a multi-national and multi-stakeholder coordination and response mechanism on Internet shutdowns. Through TFIS, we are working to improve coordination among like-minded countries, civil society, and the private sector to anticipate and respond to Internet shutdowns. As the biggest multilateral, multi-stakeholder forum dedicated to internet governance, the UN IGF is the ideal platform to bring partners together to drive this forward. This event will support and deliver on our four key lines of effort: knowledge sharing; response – preventative and reactive (especially the former); shifting global norms – elevating Internet shutdowns up the international policy agenda (in line with the aspiration Japan set out to when hosting a session on Internet shutdowns at the UN UGF 2022); and improving data collection (e.g. trends around Internet shutdowns around elections).

The sessions will follow a Town Hall format, with an aimed balanced representation of both online and onsite speakers. The event will have an onsite moderator, chairing the discussion, and an online moderator to manage online participation, for example questions and comments in the online chat. The onsite and online moderators will be working closely together during the event to ensure a fluid and smooth conversation and interactions between participants onsite and online, supported by Google Meet/Zoom and onsite AV equipment. The event will begin with an introduction and welcome from the moderator, followed by 3-5 minutes of speaking time for each Town Hall speaker, which will take up the first part of the event. The second half of the session will be for an open discussion with attendees. During this time, the onsite moderator will chair the conversation and contributions from both online and onsite participants, ensuring equal opportunity of speech. The online moderator will source questions from the online audience to the onsite moderator, who will intertwine the online queries and comments with questions from the onsite audience. To maximise engagement, we will consider using social media and/or interactive polling (1-3 poll questions) on relevant issues throughout the event to 'read the temperature in the room'. The poll will use Slide/Mentimeter, which will allow onsite attendees to quickly access it using their mobile devices. The poll questions will also be pasted on the chat box by the online moderator, so people can respond to the poll questions in the chat box if they are not able to use Slido/Mentimeter. The online moderator will be responsible for collating insights from social media, the polling tool and responses in the chat box, to feed these to the on site moderator to announce and provide comments in designated moments throughout the event.


UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
Kanbar Hossein-Bor: Deputy Director Democratic Governance & Media Freedom, UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Nicola Burgess: UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Amelia Timewell: UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Laura O’Brien: Access Now Idan Ben Yakir: Global Network Initiative


Confirmed in person speakers/participants: - Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner for the #KeepItOn campaign at Access Now - Sarah Moulton, Deputy Director, Democracy and Technology, at the National Democratic Institute (leading a project about shutdowns and elections). - Nicole Stremlau, Head of the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford and Research Professor in Humanities at the University of Johannesburg, with specific insight on shutdowns/Africa. In addition, we plan to invite: - An elections integrity expert. - Geographical-focused representative from a country/region with elections in late 2023/early 2024 subject to developments between now and October.

Onsite Moderator

Kanbar Hossein-Bor, Deputy Director Democratic Governance & Media Freedom, UK Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office

Online Moderator

Amelia Timewell / Idan Ben Yakir


Nicola Burgess / Laura O’Brien


10. Reduced Inequalities
16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Targets: Internet shutdowns imposed by governments impact all people, especially vulnerable and marginalised groups, including women. Internet shutdowns ramp up censorship, restrict free expression, and limit the dissemination and free flow of information, contributing to social and political disorder, and violence and negatively affecting public safety. Other impacts include lowering labour and capital productivity, as access to email servers and online platforms is vital for many thriving economies; disrupting financial and banking services and preventing payments for salaries, utilities, health, and education; risking foreign direct investment, as a climate of uncertainty can discourage foreign investors; and limiting the ability of journalists and human rights defenders to report on human rights violations or abuses.

Session Type