Stockholm Syndrome and the internet

Stockholm Syndrome describes how hostages can eventually come to adopt the values or point of view of their captors.  Having just returned from ICANN 58 in Copenhagen I am convinced there is a lot more of it about than I had suspected hitherto.

Where else could you hear someone say? “Shame we couldn’t sort this out here in Copenhagen.  The agenda just got super-squeezed. Let’s try and do it in Johannesburg.”

Yes. Johannesburg is where ICANN 59 will be held but via matter-of-fact, deadpan statements of this kind it’s made to sound like we can all just hop on a bus tomorrow morning or meet round the corner in Costa Coffee.  Easy-peasy. What’s the flap? This is routine, ordinary everyday stuff.

But of course it isn’t. In fact “doing it in Johannesburg” means waiting three months, spending hundreds of pounds, for some it will be thousands of pounds,  and probably it requires another week of your time. You pretty much have to be a civil or public servant of some sort,  an academic with an interest in the field, work for a tech company, be a paid lobbyist or be independently wealthy and leisured to be able to be so casual about “doing it in Johannesburg”.

The process itself looks like it has become the justification for carrying on the process and a great many of the captives, not all,  are now indistinguishable from their symbiotic masters.  There is a network of working parties, review groups, committees, and so on which make Byzantium seem like a lean and mean racing machine. To any but those within the priesthood ICANN is as transparent as Mississippi mud.

Stockholm Syndrome is also the only explanation I can come up with for the following (summarised) conversations I had with a couple of perfectly decent, in fact highly agreeable and  (otherwise) extremely smart ICANN stalwarts.

Me: Seems like unless you are actually in the room and shouting, your interest will just get overlooked.  That’s not because everybody else is bad or against it, it’s just that they are there with their own agenda and there are limits to how far, out of the kindness of their hearts, they can deviate from that to help out on an issue  not front and centre for them or rather not front and centre for whoever is paying for them to be there.

One of the Other People: (OTOP) That’s true. It’s just how things work around here.

Me: Writing and submitting papers, trying to connect remotely I guess can be better than nothing but it’s still second best by a long chalk. You can’t beat being in the room. Then there’s the benefits of networking and serendipity. Not possible if you’re not there.

OTOP: You got that right. It’s just how things work around here.

Me: There are clearly major child protection interests at stake in a number of the decisions ICANN’s Board takes.  Yet I struggle to see much sign that ICANN’s leadership are in the least bit interested in any of them. Look what happened with the Russian version of .kids.

OTOP: I agree but you need to get people involved  in the ICANN processes to make sure ICANN makes what you think are the right decisions.

Me: The children’s groups are working in all sorts of ways helping all sorts of needy children and their families so you are saying I need to get them to divert their attention from those matters to help ICANN do the right thing by children?


Me: Many of the children’s organizations are struggling as it is. We’re not like the banks, insurance companies and pharmaceuticals people who have money coming out of their ears to hire lawyers, lobbyists, staffers and who knows who else to do the needful to make sure their interests are properly safeguarded within ICANN e.g. by going to all the meetings, reading the papers and tracking all the things that are going on.

OTOP: Well it’s just how things work around here.  Many people who participate in ICANN are volunteers.

Me: Really? I’m sure I saw at least one report showing that, in fact,  a very high proportion of people who took part in the policy-making bits of ICANN were actually paid in one way or another by a business or organization with a tech interest. 

But anyway  are you saying that bad decisions can be taken by ICANN simply because children’s advocates cannot afford to come to all these meetings or find the volunteers or other resources to participate in the extremely lengthy processes ICANN has established?

OTOP: That’s possible I suppose.

Me: Doesn’t that mean this is a bad system?

OTOP: Well that’s how it works around here.

Me: ICANN has a duty of care to children. It should not leave children’s safety to chance. It should be part of ICANN’s mission as an institution to ensure, at the very least, it does no harm to children and I might even hope for a more positive attitude.

Meanwhile ICANN’s paymasters continue to prosper.