As internet use and cybercrime swell due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some 2.9 billion people—about 37 percent of the global population—have never used the digital tool, our Staff Writer JAMES CHAVULA reports.
An additional 782 million people came online in just two years since 2019 when Chinese medics discovered Covid-19, unequal access, provocative hate speech and cybercrime have been tearing at the fabric of the global web.
The newcomers’ count is more than twice the US population and 41 times Malawi’s count.
This month, the surge in internet use and abuse prompted delegates at the UN Internet Governance Forum in Katowice, Poland, to seek measures that leverage the power of the Internet while tackling the risks.
The forum convened over 7000 innovators, big tech executives, young people, ministers and parliamentarians to spur efforts to build an open, secure and free digital future for all.
Its theme, internet united, calls for stepping up collective efforts to achieve universal access and meaningful connectivity, economic inclusion and human rights protection online.
Said UN Secretary-General António Guterres: “The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the life-changing power of the Internet. Digital technology has saved lives by enabling millions of people to work, study and socialise safely online.
“But the pandemic has also magnified the digital divide and the dark side of technology: the lightning-fast spread of misinformation, the manipulation of people’s behaviour and more,” he added. We can only address these challenges united, through strengthened cooperation.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called for a united response to the emerging digital challenges, especially since the global pandemic has accelerated digitalisation in economics, politics and social life.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that during the Covid-19 pandemic, internet user ranks grew from 4.1 billion to 4.9 billion in 2021, thanks to working and learning from home education as well as remote health services which brought the worldwide web within the reach of many.
However, about 2.9 billion people, 96 percent of whom live in developing countries, remain without internet access and risk being left behind by the digital revolution.
Liu Zhenmin, UN under-secretary-seneral for economic and social sffairs, said delivering the promise for an equitable digital future for all—turning the Covid-19 crisis into opportunities—will remain “easier said than done” unless nations unite to even it up.
Ensuring an open, free and safe Internet would create the right conditions to reap the rewards of a digital future, he said.
For example, it is estimated that 230 million “digital jobs” in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 could generate nearly $120 billion in revenue if supported by some 650 million training opportunities. The use of artificial intelligence is forecast to generate nearly $4 trillion in added value for global markets.
But surging Internet use has also been accompanied by a spike in data breaches.
A lack of Internet accountability has made the Internet a vehicle for the spread of incendiary hate speech, violent extremism and misinformation on the pandemic. Cybercrime is also on the rise with more than 7 000 data breaches recorded in 2019 alone, exposing more than 15 billion records. The cost of such breaches is expected to top $5 trillion by 2024.
While the Internet had often become the only way to continue education or employment during Covid‑19-related lockdowns, cyber-bullying and digital violence have made it a hostile space for many, especially women.
There were 3.5 million internet users in Malawi in January and the number increased by 639 000, some 23 percent since last year.
Despite the surge in estimated internet penetration, at least 82 in every 100 Malawians remain excluded from the worldwide web.