Last week, in a speech outlining his priorities for the year, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded the alarm on five pressing global challenges that will require “the full mobilization of every country” to address—namely, COVID-19, global finance, climate action, lawlessness in cyberspace and peace and security.
It is the fourth of these, lawlessness in cyberspace, that most stands out. As Guterres noted, while “outdated … multilateral frameworks” and ineffective global governance are hindering progress on almost all of the international community’s shared goals, in cyberspace, “global governance barely exists at all.” There, structures and norms are not in need of refurbishment, but must be built from the ground up. As if that weren’t daunting enough, the international community will need to find new tools and techniques suited for this entirely uncharted terrain. In a long list of urgent crises, then, creating some structure for cyberspace governance could very well be the most urgent of all.
“Lawlessness in cyberspace” has already taken a huge toll, irreparably shaping the lives of those born and brought up in the internet age. As Guterres pointed out, there is a now a pressing need to regulate “the business models of social media companies” which now “prioritize addiction, outrage and anxiety” as a source of profit. Young people are especially vulnerable to this strategy.