Governing without the politics
by Ed Sawicki
Although this article is about a technical subject involving the Internet, its real purpose is to tell you about a system for managing a worldwide network that is not controlled by any one government.
You're accessing this webpage using the address that begins "https://newsthink.org" and that stays the same regardless of who the U.S. president is, whether there's a war in Ukraine, what the Supreme Court rules, or what Elon Musk thinks. The system was created by technical people interested in designing something that worked while minimizing negative effects of world politics.
It's called the Domain Name System (DNS). It allows every node on the worldwide network to have its own name or address. By extension, every individual using that network may be uniquely identified.
Let's look at an example. One of my email addresses is unique across the entire planet. It's firstname.lastname@example.org. Since it's unique, many non-email systems smartly allow me to use that as a username. My insurance company allows me to use my email address as my username for accessing their computer system. This saves the company from having to create and maintain usernames for their customers. It saves me from having to remember numerous usernames that vary based on the system I access.
But not all computer systems allow these unique names. Examples of exceptions are Twitter and Meta/Facebook. When you signup for Twitter, it creates a username for you that is unique within their system but does not match your unique name on the Internet. I consider this a significant design flaw.
The impact of that design flaw surfaced in early May 2023. Numerous organizations, such as National Public Radio, have stopped using Twitter in protest over Elon Musk's (the owner of Twitter) tyrannical reign over it. Musk fought back by threatening to reassign NPR's Twitter name (@NPR) to someone else. NPR doesn't want to damage its brand, so they're in a tight spot.
If Twitter allowed NPR to use their domain name (npr.org), Musk could not hold his customers' branding hostage.
The organization that controls Internet domain names today is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is run by international multistakeholder governance. If I had to describe this governance, I'd be replicating what already exists in places like Wikipedia, so I'll refer you to the Wikipedia page.
Note: In the early days of the Internet, domain names were controlled by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which was run by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Many countries were uncomfortable with the United States controlling the Internet and wanted something more like the United Nations in conrtol.
Many of us tekkies have suggested that large social media platforms are best implemented as public utilities, and the current problems with Elon Musk's Twitter strengthen that argument. But public ownership of Twitter could be a problem given the fascist elements in U.S. politics and the sharp political divide. International multistakeholder governance might be one way to minimize this threat by taking governance out of the hands of politicians.
And just in case you're thinking that Musk and the courts could prevent it from happening, remember that it's not necessary to convert Twitter to a public utility. A new system can be created and the free market can decide which becomes dominant.
Wikipedia: Multistakeholder governance