Ostensibly, the internet is and has been the pivotal technology of the Information Age since its advent. And, with the explosion of wireless communication in the early twenty-first century, we can say that humankind is now almost entirely connected, albeit with great levels of inequality in bandwidth, efficiency, and price. But being connected is one thing, having an internet that is well managed, developed, open and accessible is another. And, the extremely complex nature of the internet makes it difficult for one individual or organization to manage it. Therefore, over the years an “amalgam” of stakeholders (IANA, ICANN, AFRINIC et al) have been responsible for managing the Internet. One of those organizations is the Internet Society.
In 1992, foreseeing the impact that internet would have on the global community, a group of internet pioneers decided to form a global organization to help ensure the continued development of the internet. This group also sought to ensure that the internet remains open and accessible to all, as well as to more directly support the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in its open standards processes. This “global organization,” which became known as the Internet Society, was founded to provide leadership in internet related standards, education, and policy.
Since 1992, the Internet Society has been committed to ensuring the open development, evolution, and use of the internet for the benefit of people throughout the world. Through developing-country workshops, public policy, technical activities, sponsored events, and the many and varied activities of its Members, Regional Bureaus, and local Chapters, the Internet Society serves the needs of the growing global Internet community. Members come from industry, academia, NGOs, and government who share in the vision of our founders, and support our ongoing efforts to address the long-term health of the Internet for generations to follow.
Liberia is one of the many countries that has a local chapter of the Internet Society. Known as the Internet Society Chapter of Liberia or ISOC-Liberia, the organization which has been in existence since 2009, consists of a group of internet enthusiasts, including internet users, professionals, actors and stakeholders, who are concerned about the development of the Internet in Liberia. ISOC-Liberia was conceived as a Chapter by a group of Liberian internet enthusiasts, who were convinced that the internet is a valuable development tool for Liberia. ISOC-Liberia’s pioneers also believed that there was a need to promote the use of the Internet in all areas of life (social, educational, economic and cultural) in Liberia, to keep pace with the global community.
ISOC-Liberia remains a multi-stakeholder membership organization that is open to anyone who wants to join and contribute toward improving the use of the internet in Liberia. The chapter is a Not -for-profit Organization that is run by a board of trustees and a leadership team. Its members comprise of volunteers from the business sector, the technical and academic communities, government, as well as the civil society.
ISOC-Liberia members collaborate on topics critical to the future of the internet in Liberia, including privacy, net neutrality, IPv6, security, local digital content and innovation, and human rights and freedom of expression. ISOC-Liberia is deeply committed to the continued evolution of an open internet. Its meetings provide the ideal medium to discuss some of the greatest challenges that the internet faces today and tomorrow. ISOC-Liberia also provides a medium for Liberians to deliver bold predictions and compelling perspectives on topics that will impact the next few years of the internet in Liberia.
Over the years, Liberians have become increasingly at ease in the Web’s multidimensionality and the freedom that accompanies it. In fact, the most telling expression of this new freedom is how Liberians use the internet in the transformation of sociopolitical practices. As compared to the past where messages flew solely from the few to the many, with little interactivity, today, messages flow from the many to the many in multimodal and interactive ways. This makes the internet a more powerful global network and “tool” that requires some level of leadership, which the Internet Society in general and ISOC-Liberia (in particular as it relates to Liberia) aim to provide.
ISOC-Liberia has a board of trustees which is headed by a chairman and a leadership team which is headed by the president, who also is an ex-officio member of the board of trustees. The organization currently has a temporary office on Benson and Mechlin Streets where meetings are held the second Saturday of every month. It currently is working in collaboration with various stakeholders including the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, iLAB, high schools, colleges and Universities to evangelize the principles of the Internet Society and ensure that access to the internet is expanded, free and open.
The use of the internet in Liberia has also created a new landscape of social and political change that necessitates openness and freedom; the very tenets of the Internet Society as well as our young democracy. Today, we see a lot of networked social organizations in the form of intellectual centers that really never existed in the past. All of these organizations tend to seek and be vocal about social, economic and political change. Such advocacies are supported by organizations like Internet Society and are a result a bold move by horizontal communications networks, which have disintermediated government and corporate control of online communications.
ISOC-Liberia plans to embark upon a national awareness initiative that will involve collaborating with the Government through the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications and all other stakeholders to achieve this goal. This awareness initiative is intended to educate Liberians on the role of ISOC-Liberia as a civil society organization. The initiative is also intended to remove all utopian and dystopian perceptions of the internet that could be detrimental or deleterious to its development in Liberia.
Finally, ISOC-Liberia is a product of the digital revolution and perhaps some major sociocultural changes. ISOC Liberia like all other countries’ local chapters, is a community formed through individuals’ quests for like-minded people in a process that combines online interaction with offline interaction, cyberspace, and the local space.