ICANN wants to know if it’s okay if it regulates your speech, even when you’re not doing ICANN stuff.
Acting CEO Sally Costerton has floated the idea of extending ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior into things people say in their everyday lives.
The notion came up in ICANN’s response (pdf) to consultant Jeff Neuman, who recently complained to the Org about a TV interview given by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, a prominent member of the intellectual property community in the Middle-East.
In the interview on Jordanian TV last October, Abu-Ghazaleh made some outrageously anti-Semitic remarks and appeared to suggest the Holocaust was a good thing.
His TAG-Org business has at least three ties to ICANN. It’s an accredited registrar, it’s involved in an approved UDRP provider, and it hosts an instance of ICANN’s L-root DNS root server.
Neuman said that ICANN should not associate with racists and should remove TAG-Org’s L-root instance and relocate it to another organization in Jordan or elsewhere the Middle-East.
It took a few months to get a response, but now Costerton has written back to Neuman “to make it absolutely clear that hate speech has no place in ICANN’s multistakeholder process”:
She said that ICANN has “reached out directly to inform Talal Abu Ghazaleh and TAG-Org that their hate speech violates ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior” and “referred this matter to the Office of the Ombuds to investigate and make further recommendations.”
Although your letters are specifically about TAG-Org, they also point to a larger question that has not yet been addressed by the ICANN community. Specifically what role, if any, should ICANN have in addressing egregious conduct that violates the Expected Standards of Behavior to the extent that it could cause significant reputational harm to ICANN and the multistakeholder model if left unaddressed? This is an area for which there is currently no policy or community guidance. In its absence, it is difficult to know how to weigh potentially competing issues. For example, your letters reference free speech questions. This incident has made it clear that as a community we need to discuss this further in the coming weeks and months.
This brief reference to the “free speech” implications of taking action may be a clue that ICANN is actually just trying to preemptively weasel out of actually doing anything about TAG-Org. Neuman seems to think that’s a possibility.
But let’s take Costerton’s letter at face value. ICANN is now talking about extending its Expected Standards of Behavior to things people say when they’re not doing ICANN community stuff.
The ESB is ICANN’s take on codified politeness, banning all the -isms and -phobias from ICANN community conduct. It’s supplemented by the Community Anti-Harassment Policy, which is referenced in Costerton’s letter (pdf) to TAG-Org and which among many other things bans swearing.
Participants are reminded of applicability of these policies whenever they walk into an ICANN conference center or log in to a Zoom call.
That, as far as I’m concerned, is where it should begin and end — when you’re in an ICANN meeting or participating on a mailing list, play nice. ICANN’s house, ICANN’s rules.
Abu-Ghazaleh spouted some pretty incredibly racist stuff, but he did so in a media appearance. He wasn’t on TV to discuss ICANN, or domain names, or intellectual property. He was talking about the attacks in Israel and Gaza.
ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior have no jurisdiction over Jordanian TV. Or, indeed, any news media.
ICANN as a private organization would of course be well within its rights to just unilaterally remove the Amman L-root. It refuses to take money from alt-roots. It refuses to work with convicted pirates. Surely refusing to work with a Holocaust supporter isn’t too much of a stretch.
But the idea that ICANN’s rules on personal conduct should extend outside the grey, windowless walls of an ICANN convention center, or that ICANN employees should be the judges of whether something is or isn’t offensive… nah.
Remember, a lot of these people are Californians.