Summary of the AFRINIC Community Consultative webinar on the topic “Public persecution and Constructive criticism on AFRINIC mailing lists’’ that took place on Thursday 4 March 2021.
AFRINIC organised a consultative webinar on Thursday 4 March 2021 on the topic "Public persecution and Constructive criticism on AFRINIC mailing lists".
The main objectives of the webinar were to:
- Listen to concerns on the AFRINIC mailing lists
- Share some of our concerns on the virulence of exchanges on AFRINIC Mailing lists
- Discuss ways to adopt good practices on the AFRINIC mailing lists
Arthur Cardinal, Head of Stakeholder Engagement at AFRINIC introduced the session by providing the “house rules” of the session. Mr Eddy Kayihura, the Chief Executive Officer of AFRINIC followed with a speech drawing the lines between the two concepts in the title of the session ‘’Public persecution and Constructive criticism’ highlighting that the AFRINICmailing list sometimes contains language that amounts to persecution.
Mr Kayihura traced the growth of AFRINIC since 2003 amidst the expansion of the digital space in Africa highlighting his personal experience when he first joined the AFRINIC Mailing lists explaining that the diversity of the African membership and community is our wealth and we should all strive to keep it alive and healthy.
“The AFRINIC mailing lists are an important avenue for policy building and continuous dialogue. Through our mailing list, we can engage in open, respectful discussion, on matters of importance to the African Internet community and people” said Mr Kayihura. In conclusion, he recalled to his audience that collectively it is our duty to create a conducive space for the newcomers who are joining our platform and that there is a lot to achieve with our community in our region and for our continent.
Next on the agenda was Mr Ashil Oogarah, the AFRINIC Communications Team Lead who spoke on the concern of AFRINIC on the virulence of some exchanges on the mailing list. Mr Oogarah explained the potential consequences of such actions and the need for the AFRINIC community to balance their freedom of expression with the rights of others. As a corporate citizen, and responsible RIR, AFRINIC has an obligation to ensure that content appearing on its platform is not unlawful.
Mr Kayihura then invited the community for the Questions and Answers session which was quite interactive on the following questions.
What do you think AFRINIC should or should not do that would help maintain constructive discussions on our mailing lists?
The following points were highlighted during the discussions:
- AFRINIC needs to train the community or do more in terms of outreach, publishing of documents to enforce the code of conduct.
- It is fine to comment on people's ideas respectfully without attacking the person. We need to find a way to foster an environment where ‘’the ideas get attacked and not the people’’.
- Community member verification on the mailing lists not rigorous enough.
- It is difficult to establish a set of criteria for an open community that cannot be an exclusive community.
- It was highlighted that AFRINIC encourages an open environment.
How should AFRINIC deal with archives posts that potentially represent a legal risk for the organisation?
The following points were highlighted during the discussions.
- An archive should be an immutable record of the mailing list. There is a legal risk when "it comes not from the archive content, but from the original post".
- Posts that were marked as unacceptable or against the code of conduct, removing the original content of the post or altering it is an attempt to revise history.
- There is some global consensus across the Internet that deleting archives is a very serious thing.
- If there is an archive or certain content on a website that is published, it could potentially have a legal risk to the organisation which publishes it.
- A question was posed on whether there was a way to put archives somewhere else and contents that contain child pornographic or terrorist information must be deleted in any consequences.
- Archives should be preserved except for certain content that can’t be preserved for legal reasons.
- Deleting archives is similar to censorship. Even in extreme cases such as terrorism or child pornography, there needs to be a court order. If AFRINIC notices that contents may be illegal it should ask the authorities to confirm if archives should be removed. There must be a way that AFRINIC can protect itself such that it is just seen as not being responsible for the posting and acting as a record keeper. The jurisdiction where the postings have been made can also be an issue.
- A proposal for putting the archive on a different domain was highlighted in addition to the importance to bring sanity to our mailing list.
- AFRINIC should go back and review its code of conduct and platform.
- The issue of civil responsibility versus criminal offence was addressed. The importance and role of free speech and civil responsibility versus the lack of action from the authorities for a criminal offence were also highlighted.
- We don't have the right to attack anyone, naming them, but the right to privacy applies to everyone, hence the need to comment responsibly was highlighted.
- There was another support for not deleting archives. However, based on points he has listened to about child porn and terrorism, his views shifted a little. If we are going to agree to delete archives, ‘’are we going to set strict rules that will be followed on what can be deleted and how it should be deleted?’’
- A personal story of an interaction with the AFRINIC mailing list was shared when someone joined the AFRINIC community years ago, it really helped him to fit in because there was nothing about deleting archives, but when these archives are edited and they are no longer the original content, a new user coming in will not have the actual representation of what is happening in AFRINIC and that affects the person standing.
- Encourage anonymous participation because it covers the legitimate rights of individual participants. Still, anonymous participation *must* not be an acceptable mean to bypass the CoC or any well defined AUP.
- Anonymous participation rights *must* not include the right to participate in any selection process to vote in any election. Because any rightful voter must be identified to be able to vote; so that the 'one man; one vote' principle could be applicable.
- A mailing list archive is a special tool which *should* be preserved first hand. Therefore there are very few things/use cases for which it *should* be envisaged to *redact* part of the clearly identified *offending* content (such as a URL locating a dangerous attached file unexpectedly passed on the list; text or link to porn materials or any URL assessed as dangerous inside a spammy email, or materials unexpectedly shared on the list.
- No reference to any email should be removed to a mailing list archive, but exceptionally, if there is a really dangerous email that has unexpectedly found its way to appear on a mailing list archive; some direct appropriate actions should be taken as early as possible. Such actions could include a partial modification of the proven *offending* URL or attached file.
- We should engage in other actions to foster community participation: about ensuring a minimum of coherence between all the ToRs or Guidelines of the different committees, not including the PDWG's ones.
- A comment about the situation where various AFRINIC staff names were mentioned on the mailing list and nothing has been done so far with respect to this. AFRINIC is not there to remove historical information, but there is a need to review the process for mailing lists.
- People are using anonymity in the wrong way on our mailing lists and AFRINIC has had anonymous postings. "If these get deleted, another one comes, then we have a deeper problem." Our system is based on argument and consensus. "Arguments need to be read in a way people agree with you. One argument may be better than 1000 sock puppets arguments In discussing policies, anonymously is not a problem. We can allow people to post anonymously but their ID should be verified by staff at AFRINIC."
- There was a proposal to moderate anonymous posters.
- There was a suggestion to improve the Code of conduct with respect to anonymous posting.
- People or organisations have been attacked on the mailing list. This is not an adequate situation with regard to the reputation of such organisations.
In his closing remarks, Mr Kayihura thanked all the participants and highlighted that AFRINIC is working towards getting to a point where it is safe to communicate and welcome more people to our mailing lists. He also added that during the AFRINIC strategic meeting last year, it was assessed that the engagement level with AFRINIC members and community was one of the pillars where AFRINIC needs to improve. AFRINIC intends to have an environment that is conducive enough and helpful for everyone to freely participate and where people are safe to contribute.