I'm going to do what no professional journalist should ever do: take a story at face value. So full disclosure: I have not checked the facts behind the story that sparked this little rant I'm about to embark on. But I've known the author for a number of years as being a consummate professional when it comes to reporting facts. And I've known ICANN, the organisation, for even longer. I have therefore seen first hand the organisation's ability to be at times borderline duplicitous in its attempts to reach a desired result.
The story is Kieren McCarthy's piece just published by The Register and claiming that ICANN had a hand in skewing the results of an ongoing battle over who should operate the new gTLD .africa.
Kieren's article, and the broader issue of the .africa debacle, is set to become a major thorn in ICANN's side. I won't waste the reader's time recounting both, as they are readily accessible online.
What I will do is make a plea. If ICANN staff did actually take an active role in helping one of the .africa belligerents against the other… and if they then proceeded to purposefully redact all traces of this involvement from the report on the .africa independent review proceedings… then it's time to re-empower the community to help it act as a control rod for ICANN's tendency to go into full meltdown mode and play God.
As it stands today, ICANN is a 300-plus army of staffers ready to swamp the community, the domain industry and anyone else that deals with the organisation on a regular basis with a seemingly endless flow of long-winded processes, reports and procedures. It's sometimes so bad that "victims" feel they are up against Soviet-era style bureaucracy designed to, at best, discourage, at worse despair them into submission.
It's not that ICANN staff itself is to blame. They are just part of the system. The ICANN Machine. It is that machine that must be counterbalanced by a community that is far from powerless. ICANN meetings now regularly run over the 2000-participant mark. That's plenty of people ready to uphold the standards they believe ICANN should adhere to.
True, the community is as disparate as the human population of this planet. But that is a strength more than it is a weakness. Diversity breeds ingenuity, responsibility, greater understanding and respect of differing opinions and cultures.
Moreover, for at least one key core value, the community is united. All the volunteers that bother to commit to those long hours on teleconferences and face-to-face meetings to do ICANN's business really BELIEVE in the "everyone has a voice, and no voice is louder than any other voice" model of governance that ICANN has been experimenting with since it was created in 1998.
United in defence of that ideal, the community can push ICANN to become more accountable, transparent… and just as important, neutral. Any entity that finds itself in a de-facto regulatory role ends up at risk of overstepping into "regulatory capture". The organisation itself is so intent on having the last word, it becomes more meddlesome than effective. Even in situations, such as the one that exists with ICANN, where there are structures in place that are supposed to be authoritative in specific areas of policy development…
Episodes like the ".africa affair" may actually help galvanise the community into pushing back on the ICANN Machine attempting to control and rewrite everything like The Matrix' Agent Smith trying to imprint itself on Neo.
Simply put, by continually making its voice heard when it can, and when it counts, the community can keep ICANN honest!
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