ICANN60: Shining a Light on Bad Actors at ICANN

This week I’ll be attending ICANN60 in Abu Dhabi for its general meeting. This meeting is particularly momentous for me personally as I will begin my two-year term as the North American representative to the At Large Advisory Committee or in other words, the NARALO representative to the ALAC. As such there is no better platform to begin raising general awareness of the bad actor problem that I have seen emerging in a number of discussions and working groups across ICANN.

Since ICANN successfully separated from US oversight with the IANA transition, ICANN has been working to complete the steps demanded by its many stakeholders to make it a responsible and responsive organization. Unfortunately, among its many stakeholders are those who would like to see this experiment fail. It does not take great imagination to identify them.

For the most part, these bad actors represent the interests or are beholden to governments which domestically oppress civil society actors. Their veiled hostility to the multistakeholder model should come as no surprise to anyone. Some governments would dismiss or jail their critics without a thought in their own country. ICANN and its multistakeholder model forces them however to sit at the same table and maintain civility and treat them as quasi-equals. They have no love for the multistakeholder model which empowers actors that they would just assume remain mute.

These actors however have little choice in playing along. Overt action would almost certainly invite criticism and censure. So, they have settled upon a subtler stratagem; that of the bad actor.

Imagine you are playing a board game with a large group of friends. A few of them hate the chosen game but rather than be left out, consent to play. However, their incessant complaints, rules questions, and criticism of play makes the experience miserable for everyone. This eventually leads the group to put away the game and choose one more to the liking of the complainers.

This is where we find ourselves at ICANN. It is readily apparent that there are actors that would prefer ICANN’s responsibilities be moved to a multilateral footing like that of the ITU. If they can discredit ICANN or failing that slow down ICANN’s processes to make its efforts grind to a halt, they can point to this failure and generalize it to the idea of a multistakeholder mechanism more broadly.

Our responsibility and recourse are to call it out when we see it and raise others’ awareness. If we know a player is complaining for the sake of complaint, we take their complaints with the grain of salt they merit. There is certainly space at ICANN for people of principle to disagree in good faith but bad actors are not acting in good faith as they seek to undermine the very process and model and this must be vigilantly guarded against.