Wikimedians have some advice for the United Nations. Help spread the word.

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United Nations Member States are drafting a vision for the future of the internet through the Global Digital Compact. We can ensure that the Wikimedia projects are protected.

United Nations (UN) Member States are outlining principles for an open, free, and secure digital future through a new international framework: the Global Digital Compact. Similar to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the Compact will become the blueprint for how Member States shape their internet policies and develop regulation at the country level. Those policies and regulations will impact Wikimedia projects.

We want the Global Digital Compact to ensure that spaces exist in that digital future for community-led models centered on the public interest. This is especially important at a time when policymakers’ attempts to regulate the largest for-profit technology companies are increasingly resulting in unintended adverse consequences for community-led platforms like ours. The time to shape the text of the Compact is now, and Wikimedians have a unique story and experience to share. 

The Wikimedia Foundation and 12 Wikimedia affiliates have published an open letter as a call to UN Member States to include three key commitments in the Global Digital Compact. This blog post explains why influencing the Compact is essential for Wikimedia’s free and open knowledge mission, why we are publishing the open letter now, and how you can support this initiative.

Why is the Global Digital Compact important?

The Compact is being collaboratively created through a consultation process involving governments, civil society, the private sector, and more. UN Member States will vote on the final version of the Compact in September, 2024, at a special meeting known as the Summit of the Future that will focus on various aspects of global cooperation.

During the past two years, the Foundation and Wikimedia affiliates have been involved in the Compact drafting process. More recently, the Foundation and 12 Wikimedia affiliates have created a proposal to enshrine core principles that are essential to the Wikimedia movement, such as protecting community-led models, in the final version of the Compact. We believe this will both protect our projects and pave the way for similar projects to emerge and thrive in the future. 

For Wikimedia affiliates like Wikimedia Czech Republic, the Compact is a rare chance to proactively build a more inclusive online future:

In advocacy work, we often only react to changes in our legal and social environment that we were previously unable to influence. Thus, whenever there is an opportunity to participate in the creation of rules, and not only to follow them, we need to take it. The Global Digital Compact is such an opportunity. This initiative will influence the shape of the world in which Wikimedia projects operate, and here we can do something to help make the online space what we need it to be: A free digital space without barriers, which enables the free sharing of knowledge.

Why we are publishing this open letter now

Governments worldwide are increasingly proposing new legislation aimed at regulating the largest for-profit technology companies, but in doing so are inadvertently creating legal requirements that could harm Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. Some measures proposed by governments in recent years both threaten the ability of volunteers to moderate content on the projects, and put pressure on the Foundation to violate our privacy principles and collect more information than is strictly necessary about users.

The creation of the Global Digital Compact is one of the most valuable opportunities to address these threats at the global level. Through this open letter, we are encouraging UN Member States to help us enshrine our values of community-led content moderation and governance in this global framework in order to protect our projects’ futures. The open letter builds on efforts over the past two years from the Wikimedia affiliates and the Foundation to help shape the Compact, mainly by providing both written and oral input into a number of public consultations. These include a comprehensive written submission in April 2023.

For Wikimedia User Group Nigeria and Wikimedia Chile, the Compact is a chance to highlight experiences from their communities at the global level. 

Wikimedia User Group Nigeria explained their challenges and aspirations:

Access to resources, knowledge, and power is not available in the same proportion among nations, and neither is access to technology. As an organization from the Global South, we desire a digital technological future that will benefit all and promote information transparency, equality, and safety of internet users everywhere.

Wikimedia Chile emphasized that the Compact offers a crucial opportunity to reshape digital governance:

Voices from the Global South are crucial to shaping this discussion. Our experiences are often overlooked when determining technology’s global impact and governance. We urge Wikimedia affiliates and volunteers to actively participate in this conversation, as it presents a rare opportunity to shape and safeguard the internet we desire.

Our open letter outlines key commitments that we want to have included in the final version of the Compact: principles that are fundamental to ensuring that the future of the internet is open, global, interoperable, inclusive, and grounded in human rights.

What we are saying in our open letter

The open letter that the Foundation and a dozen Wikimedia affiliates have published and signed asks UN Member States to enshrine three core principles in the Global Digital Compact that can help ensure that online public interest projects as well as the people who create them can continue to thrive:

  1. Protect and empower communities to govern online public interest projects.  Free knowledge projects such as Wikipedia should not be rare. UN Member States should—through regulation, public policy, funding, and other resources—support a world where diverse online communities can build and govern their own public interest projects, designing them to be equitable and contributing to a healthier online information ecosystem. 
  2. Promote and protect digital public goods by supporting a robust digital commons from which everyone, everywhere can benefit. Digital public goods such as Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects aim to make multilingual and intercultural information freely accessible to everyone. A thriving public domain that enables the sharing of free and openly licensed content for everyone to use and reuse is key to advancing many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  3. Build and deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to support and empower, not replace, people who create content and make decisions in the public interest. AI and machine learning tools should support, and not replace, the work of humans. They should be designed and deployed in a manner consistent with international human rights standards, ensuring clear and consistent attribution. Such tools should also ensure participation and control by affected communities through transparent, accountable, and open processes.

Wikimedia UK has campaigned these past years to educate lawmakers and prevent the unintended negative consequences of regulatory decisions that threaten Wikimedia projects. The Wikimedia affiliate noted:

The Global Digital Compact represents a unique opportunity for Wikimedians to work together, across nations, to determine how we can make the internet an even better place. It is important to balance user interests with protection and freedom for public interest projects and community-governed platforms. We hope that as many people as possible from across Wikimedia’s diverse communities will sign and share the open letter to help shape this important initiative.

The full potential of the internet—enabling collaboration, broadening access to knowledge, and advancing social progress—depends on a united effort from governments, policymakers, and civil society to protect public interest spaces online.

Sign the open letter to show your support for a digital future that protects Wikimedia and other community-led projects for future generations. You can also read more about the Global Digital Compact and the Wikimedia movement’s work to shape it on our campaign collaboration webpage on Meta-Wiki and in our Medium blog post

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