You know an issue has political traction when Sarah Palin wades in on it. So I guess the IANA transition from U.S. government oversight is the issue du jour in the U.S., as this ever so eloquent statement was picked up by Fox News: “Surrendering our control of the Internet is a colossal foreign policy error with long term negative repercussions for freedom.” It's an incredible quote, especially when you recall Ms. Palin's wonderfully intellectual grasp on American foreign policy. She can see Russia from her house, after all (thank you, Tina Fey). I use her words to illustrate one of the toughest challenges we face as the Internet governance community.
While she can grab headlines with categorically false, inflammatory and self-serving statements, the truth is far too complex for the rest of us to boil down to a 15 second sound bite. I invite you to briefly yet effectively explain what the globalization of the IANA function means in accessible language. Unfortunately, Ms. Palin is not alone in her politicking with IANA. A quick search found a lot of misleading and/or ill-informed articles about ICANN and IANA. Here's a few of my favourites (certainly NOT an exhaustive list):
- The Future of Your Website Depends on This: Your business could be the biggest loser when the U.S. gives up control of the Internet next year, from Inc.
- US transfer of Internet control years in the making, fueled by foreign pressure, from Fox News.
- US government surrenders control of ICANN, from Fox News.
- How to Save the Internet: Congress can override the president's decision to hand over control of Web addresses and domains to an international body, from the Wall Street Journal.
- GOP warns Obama plan could give China or Russia control of Internet, from the Washington Times.
I didn't include hyperlinks to these articles because I'd rather not be a source of traffic – and therefore revenue – for these ‘media outlets'.
You'll notice the list is entirely comprised of American media. When I searched for Canadian articles about IANA, all that was returned was ‘tumbleweeds and crickets', so to speak. Apparently the survival of the free and open Internet is not an issue for Canadians.
Honestly, I'm not sure which is worse – misinformation or no information at all. If you believe what these ‘journalists' are trying to tell you, as an American your web presence will be controlled by “foreigners” only interested in destroying the U.S.'s global standing once the IANA contract expires. The American Internet, and along with it free speech and democracy, has been sold out to foreign interests (China, Russia, and any number of other ne'er-do-wells) by a weak president who is bowing to pressure from foreign governments. There is no evidence whatsoever to support any of this. Based in extreme partisanship, it is in my opinion the epitome of what Stephen Colbert calls ‘truthiness'. I didn't take these headlines from fringe blogs. These are from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and Fox News, among others. And regardless of your opinion of the Fox News style of journalism, it represents a source of information (I hesitate to say news) for many, many people around the globe.
This isn't new, nor am I saying anything we don't already know. In his presentation to the ccNSO on Tuesday, Larry Strickling highlighted the politicization of the IANA contract by certain elements in the U.S. Let's face facts – Sarah Palin knows as much about managing the Internet's naming and numbering system as she does about nuclear physics. Her interest in this issue is strictly motivated by personal political gain. All of this is not to say that there are not some good and informative articles out there. See Jonathan Zittrain's excellent article here and this parsing of Fox News' coverage of Bill Clinton's statements on the subject here. However, these media outlets and blogs are on the outside of the mainstream – they are a little more academic and a little deeper in their analysis. So while there is good information out there, it is not entirely accessible to the average media consumer. Rather, it is likely skeptically viewed as left leaning and biased opinion created by out-of-touch, monocle-wearing intellectuals.
I believe journalists, American, Canadian and all others need to up their game in reporting Internet governance issues. This stuff isn't the domain (no pun intended) of a core group of Internet geeks and wonks anymore. The issues do have a direct impact on the lives of billions of the world's citizens. Freedom of speech and much of the global economy rely on the free and open nature of the Internet, something that has increasingly come under threat. By minimizing these important issues as little more than a partisan battle does the citizens of the world an incredible disservice.
To borrow a word from Ms. Palin, don't misunderestimate the power of the press to influence these discussions.