Doubling Down On Secrecy: ITU Believes Secret Media Strategy Key To Avoiding SOPA/ACTA Fate

by Mike Masnick
Dec. 04, 2012

As the WCIT (World Conference on International Telecommunications) gets under way in Dubai, the ITU is making its play to regulate the internet, potentially to aid authoritarian governments in censoring or limiting the internet, or to divert money from innovative internet companies to stagnant state telcos out of a claim of "fairness." There's obviously been a lot of talk about it, and the ITU keeps claiming that it's just a neutral body to facilitate discussions, even as increasing evidence suggests it's urging many of the crazier proposals forward itself.

And now it's come out that ITU officials recently held a "secret" meeting to figure out how they were going to avoid getting SOPA'd, having the world rise up in protest as it tries to implement its internet regulatory regime. Following some bizarre and paranoid fantasy about how the anti-ITU, anti-WCIT efforts are really just because an unnamed "lobbying group" didn't like one proposal (the one mentioned above about diverting money from internet companies to telcos), the meeting got down to business: how could they use social media to prevent SOPA- or ACTA-like uprisings from the public:
In response to the anti-WCIT “campaign,” according to the September retreat’s preparatory materials, the ITU reluctantly launched a “counter-campaign,” which the agency believes “has been fairly successful outside the US and somewhat successful even in the US,” where “some of the statements made to denigrate ITU and WCIT are so extreme that they were easy to challenge and rebut.”

Going forward, the ITU focused at its meeting on the possibility of an “intensive anti-ratification campaign in OECD countries, based on the so-called lack of openness of the WCIT process, resulting in a significant number of countries refusing to ratify the new ITRs.” The ITU calls this possibility “the so-called ACTA scenario,” referring to sometimes violent protests against the secret ACTA treaty that took place this year.

To develop the next phase of its “counter-campaign,” the ITU hosted speakers from leading PR and advertising agencies to advise them on the use of social media. For example, Matthias Lufkens, Head of Digital Strategy for global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, gave a presentation on how his agency helped the World Economic Forum leverage tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr to fend off “occupy”-style protests that occurred both physically in Davos and on the Internet.

“There is a risk that [the ACTA scenario] will happen, but our communication campaign can mitigate this,” the internal document says.
Of course, the campaign doesn't really appear to be going that well -- especially since so much of it revolves around "deflect[ing] media questions from secrecy, taxes and censorship" to the blandly empty (and absolutely silly) statement that "the revised ITRs have the exciting potential to pave the way for a broadband revolution in the 21st century." I'm sure that sounds catchy on a tweet. The problem, of course, is that folks on the internet don't tend to believe that kind of bureaucrat-speak when they know it's not true. As Downes notes:
Here’s the unvarnished truth, which no PR agency can help the agency talk, tweet, or prevaricate their way around: The commercial Internet emerged and matured entirely since the treaty was last reviewed. It developed in spite of the ITRs, not because of them.

There is a familiar pattern here of ambitious regulators who have no expertise and little experience with the Internet proclaiming themselves its benevolent dictators, only to find the peasants revolting before the coup has even started.

The ITU is no different than the sponsors of ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, and other attempts at regulating the Internet, its content, or its users by governments large and small. Like the media lobbyists who continue to see the successful fight to kill SOPA and PIPA as a proxy war waged solely by Google and other Internet companies, the ITU simply can’t accept the reality that Internet users have become their own best advocates.
Once again, these bureaucrats really have no clue what they're doing.

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