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Supporting a Respectful Virtual Environment at ICANN Meetings

6 October 2021

The upcoming ICANN72 will be our second Virtual Annual General Meeting, and the sixth ICANN Public Meeting held completely online. While virtual participation has long been a necessary and useful way for our global stakeholders to take part in the ICANN multistakeholder processes, the transition to a solely virtual environment has been an adjustment for many. Some of the virtual participation tools we use are a good proxy for in-person interaction, yet some interactions do not translate as easily online.

We are all entitled to expect professionalism and courtesy when engaging with ICANN in all formats. The Office of the Ombudsman would like to remind you that ICANN's Expected Standards of Behavior govern all aspects of interaction between participants in ICANN activities, including verbal, visual, and written communication. In addition, the ICANN Community Anti-Harassment Policy exists to emphasize, encourage, and promote a spirit of mutual respect.

In our all-virtual environment, some types of communication, that do not explicitly violate either the Expected Standards or the Anti-Harassment Policy, can be disruptive or perceived as disrespectful to presenters and other participants. For example, the Zoom chat function is essential for real-time discussions of the sort that would normally take place in a hallway or over lunch at an in-person meeting. However, the chat function can also be a distraction when off-topic or tangential comments overtake the conversation. Also, the intention of a comment can be difficult to ascertain without the benefit of vocal tone and body language. What was intended as a joke or light-hearted observation online to a group can unintentionally make the subject of the comment feel unfairly targeted.

I consulted with the ICANN community and organization (org) leadership for thoughts on how to promote a respectful virtual environment while also supporting the spirit of open dialogue that drives ICANN. I am grateful for their input. To ensure our Zoom sessions are engaging, inclusive, and productive, please remember these tips:

  • To avoid confusion and to respect the session's planned agenda, please keep your interventions in the public chat on the topic that is being discussed.
  • Use private messages for off-topic comments.
  • Before commenting or adding a joke, please remember the cultural diversity of the ICANN community and consider how your comment could be perceived.
  • Please respect efforts by ICANN org's remote participation managers to keep the virtual sessions as focused as possible.
  • Reacquaint yourself with the Zoom features such as the nonverbal reaction function to interact with other participants while allowing the session to stay on track.
  • If you want to continue a side conversation or go deeper into a topic within a smaller group, you have the ability to book a private meeting directly from the ICANN72 site. You can read more about how to set that up here.

As in past meetings, the Office of Ombudsman – my colleague Barbara Curwin and I – will have open office hours to discuss any issues you might want to raise. There is an established,  confidential process for official complaints that you can initiate by filling out a complaint form. If you do not believe your issue rises to the level of a formal complaint but would like informal guidance or facilitation, please email us at ombudsman@icann.org, herb.waye@icann.org, or barbara.curwin@icann.org. Barbara and I wish you a constructive and meaningful ICANN72.


Herb Waye

Herb Waye

ICANN Ombudsman