A new initiative is angling to torpedo the NetMundial Initiative. Philip Corwin brings into light the issues of the new initiative Internet Social Forum, you can read about it here
Now, in the same week that global political and business leaders as well as prominent glitterati are meeting at the Davos event, a collection of less prominent global civil society groups has announced the launch of The Internet Social Forum (ISF). This social network can best be characterized as Occupy IG, and its apparent agenda is not one of modest reform but of a total reordering of the present arrangements for DNS management and Internet governance as well as of control for related policy development. The ISF is an offshoot of the Just Net Coalition, and it explicitly labels the ISF launch as “A Call to Occupy the Internet”.
Reviewing the press release announcing ISF (provided at the conclusion of this article), their clarion call for the “Internet we want” and their rhetorical chant that “Another Internet is possible’!” make abundantly clear that they are strongly against the status quo — and mean to change it.
The release is replete with ‘Barbarians at the Gate’ rhetoric:
“The Internet Social Forum will reach out to grassroots groups and social movements across the world, catalysing a groundswell that challenges the entrenched elite interests that currently control how the Internet is managed.” (Emphasis added)
This author would wager that ISF thinks that ICANN and anyone presently engaged in its internal structure are part of that entrenched elite, the global “1%” of the virtual world order of current Internet Governance arrangements.
The ISF has consciously positioned itself as the anti-NETmundial initiative, the people against the elites, and the self-proclaimed true representatives of participatory bottom-up policymaking. To the extent that the ISF was specifically organized in reaction to the NMI, its formation is a clear illustration of the law of unintended consequences.
The ISF seems more favorable toward the upcoming December 2015 UN WSIS+10 event, and to view NMI as designed to undermine it, stating,
“However, currently, there seems to be an deliberate attempt to sideline this UN-led initiative on governance issues of the information society and Internet in favour of private, big-business-dominated initiatives like the WEF’s Net Mundial Initiative. The Internet Social Forum, while remaining primarily a people’s forum, will also seek to channel global civil society’s engagement towards the WSIS +10 review.”
Conspicuously, the release makes no mention of the likewise UN-sponsored Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which was an output of the WSIS process – or of ICANN. Perhaps that is because these are forums in which governments do not have a controlling role.
And, like the dog that didn’t bark, there is also no mention of another key WSIS output, that of “Enhanced Cooperation”. That is code for greater IG coordination among governments and will likely be pushed by ISF as a means to counterbalance the private-sector led multistakeholder model (MSM).
The author is not familiar with most of the groups constituting ISF. As always, a good rule for understanding true intent is “follow the money”. We’d find it illuminating to know where they get their funding and whether any state actors are involved (and a colleague more familiar with the global IG scene advises that at least several are indeed closely linked to their national governments, and are unsurprisingly more favorable toward the government-led multilateral approach on IG than the private sector oriented MSM). So there is some question as to whether ISF is a genuine grassroots Netizen movement — or a convergence of government-dominated organizations pairing with “useful idiot” entities to pursue a broader and more pernicious agenda of undermining the MSM and replacing it with a UN-led, government-dominated one.
The ISF launch also illustrates that, whatever ultimately happens with the ongoing work of the ICANN community to develop a consensus proposal for the IANA transition and accompanying enhanced ICANN accountability, the transition cannot be regarded as the “end of history” for ICANN. Post-transition, there will still be powerful forces waiting in the wings desiring to undo the established order of the MSM, and that is why any transition and accountability plan must have near bulletproof protections against governmental takeover down the road.
While this development is not as ominous as the dreaded “fractured root”, it does indicate that a fracturing of civil society has developed in reaction to NMI’s launch. NMI’s ability to counter this ISF initiative is seriously hampered by the continuing reality that it failed to gain the endorsement of more mainstream civil society groups and is now proceeding without them. And those groups may now be even more hesitant to sign on lest they open themselves up to coordinated netroots criticism whipped up by ISF.
It would indeed be ironic if an NMI effort meant to unify all elements of the Internet community had, through mishandling, instead resulted in its further splintering. Yet that appears to be what is occurring. Read more