Scope of the pilot research
In order to produce a fundamental basis for the study of language typical of the emerging Internet Diplomacy, the present study attempts to quantitatively describe and statistically analyse the linguistic outputs of the six previously held Internet Government Forums: IGF 2006: Athens, IGF 2007: Rio de Janeiro, IGF 2008: Hyderabad, IGF 2009: Sharm el Sheikh, IGF 2010: Vilnius, and IGF 2011: Nairobi. The study encompasses the analyses of all transcripts of Main Sessions, Preparatory Meetings, MAG Discussions, and Workshops that were made publically available on the official website of the Internet Governance Forum http://www.intgovforum.org
The transcripts from the six IGFs by no means present the most interesting and complete empirical, linguistic material for the study of the language of Internet Diplomacy to begin with. Special attention was given to Internet governance specific words and phrases, such as frequently used phrases beginning with the word digital (as in digital divide, digital agenda and similar) or prefixes like e- (as in e-diplomacy or e-learning), or other Internet-governance-specific terms (such as data protection, open access, Internet governance).
All available transcripts have been pulled into a single, automatically and manually tagged text corpus, as described in the next section. The corpus was then submitted to a set of standard quantitative, statistical language analysis in order to gain insight into the structure of the language of Internet Diplomacy. All IGF actors – individual speakers and/or representatives of various stakeholders, ranging from government representatives and the representatives of international organisations, to the representatives of NGOs, academia and media – were recognised via the respective lists of participants of the six IGFs (2006–2011).
Although the project we are presenting is still in its pilot phase, the IGF text corpus already presents a large dataset that can be searched, tagged, and analysed in many different ways. The first few analyses will be presented in the preparation for and during the IGF in Baku.
Based on the preliminary feedback, the research team will design the full research project. Any suggestions for further research or possible improvements are welcomed. An interested reader is invited to contact us on IGFLanguage@diplomacy.edu
The project methodology is inspired by the main studies in cognitive science, linguistics and semiotics. Inspired by Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the founding father of linguistics, the research project analyses the difference between two elements of communication: the signifier and the signified.
For example, when it comes to the core term Internet governance, there is a difference between signifier (word: governance) and the way how it is signified (meaning what people associate with the word governance). According to one interpretation, governance is synonymous with government. Many governments had this initial understanding, leading to the interpretation that Internet governance should be the business of governments and consequently addressed at inter-governmental level with the limited participation of other, mainly non-state actors.[i] This interpretation clashed with a broader meaning of the term governance, which includes the governance of affairs of any institution, including non-governmental ones.
The language of Internet diplomacy has a high level of connotative meaning related to different professional and cultural backgrounds. The project aims at tracking how to address this difference between denotation and connotation in the core Internet terminology.
Diplomacy and Governance Studies
The research project follows the evolution of language at the IGF over the period of six years between the first IGF in Athens (2006) and the latest one in Nairobi (2011). In terms of Internet history, it is a long time. For example, Twitter – which plays an important role in Internet governance today – did not exist back in 2006. Facebook was in its early days. Some issues have now almost disappeared from the policy agenda. Spam was a big issue in Athens (2006), while it didn’t appear on the agenda of the IGF in Nairobi (2011). The pilot project sets methodological mapping for the temporal analysis of core research issues. The full project aims at comparing these evolutions to technological developments (e.g. cloud computing, social media) and political developments (the financial crisis in 2008).
Although the Internet is global, its governance is perceived through local lenses. The same Internet governance issues have different relevance in different countries and regions. Network neutrality has been a key issue in the United States. It is only recently that it started gaining visibility in Europe and other regions. For African countries, the key is access to the Internet. Online freedom of expression has been in the focus in the Middle East. In Europe, data protection raises a lot of attention. Even within one region sensitivities are different. While anti-ACTA protests brought thousands onto the squares of new Europe (e.g. Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary), it triggered relatively mild protests in old Europe (e.g. UK, Germany, Spain).
The research project aims at identifying different national and regional perspectives on Internet governance. The language analysis also identifies geo-emotions as the way people from different regions frame policy issues – for example, levels of optimism, trust, fear.
[i] The technological confusion was highlighted by the way the term ‘governance’ was used by some international organisations. For example, the term ‘good governance’ has been used by the World Bank to promote the reform of states by introducing more transparency, reducing corruption, and increasing the efficiency of administration. In this context, the term ‘governance’ is directly related to core government functions.