Private Tech Sector Engagement with Global Civil Society

Anecdotally, we know that the power imbalance between tech companies and civil society has meant that engagements between the two stakeholder groups lack accountability and transparency. The absence of global standards on how companies are expected to carry out their engagements is contributing to a deterioration of trust amongst civil society on a global scale.

Our research aims to paint a clearer picture of the extent of this problem to find common solutions. We interviewed civil society and community representatives across 24 countries to identify serious shortcomings in the current engagement and consultation practices by private tech companies. Common findings that surfaced with company engagements across different countries include:

  • The ad hoc nature of engagement and lack of consistency
  • A hierarchy of interest and attention to countries determined by global media coverage
  • Tokenism tendencies, overburdening already resource limited CSOs, and often using English as the only language of communication
  • Exchanging with technology companies exposes CSOs to new threats such as state surveillance

Tech companies know that their platforms have a global footprint with a reach capable of swaying elections and coordinating social unrest. They also know that it is impossible for engineers and product designers based in San Francisco, Dublin, or Berlin to have a holistic understanding of the needs and impacts of their platform in communities in the Majority World. It is time to correct the unequal relationship between these stakeholders to truly harness the importance of communicating, learning, and researching from civil society and local users. Otherwise, we are at risk of further digital colonialism and exacerbating existing global inequalities. Read the full report here.

Internews will be co-hosting a roundtable discussion with the Government of Estonia at the UNESCO Internet for Trust Global Conference on this topic. Our session aims to elevate the important voices of civil society groups at international forums on internet regulations to ensure that outcomes are relevant, sustainable, and equitable.

We would welcome any questions about the report or insights and feedback about our work in this area, please feel free to write to us.