In a new paper by Stefaan G. Verhulst at Global Partners Digital, Verhulst argues: “In recent years, multistakeholderism has become something of a catchphrase in discussions of Internet governance. This follows decades of attempts to identify a system of governance that would be sufficiently flexible, yet at the same time effective enough to manage the decentralized, non-hierarchical global network that is today used by more than 3 billion people. In the early years of the Internet, the prevailing view was that government should stay out of governance; market forces and self-regulation, it was believed, would suffice to create order and enforce standards of behavior. This view was memorably captured by John Perry Barlow’s 1996 “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” which dramatically announced: “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather”.
However, the shortcomings of this view have become apparent as the Internet has grown in scale and complexity, and as it has increasingly entered the course of everyday life. There is now a growing sense—perhaps even an emerging consensus—that markets and self-policing cannot address some of the important challenges confronting the Internet, including the need to protect privacy, ensure security, and limit fragmentation on a diverse and multi-faceted network. As the number of users has grown, so have calls for the protection of important public and consumer interests.