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Legitimacy in Multistakeholder Global Governance at ICANN

This article explores levels and patterns of legitimacy beliefs with respect to multistakeholder global governance at ICANN. From a large and systematic evidence base, Jongen & Scholte have found that ICANN has strong legitimacy underpinnings among its staff and board, as well as quite uniformly moderate-to-high legitimacy among its “community.”

Hortense Jongen & Jan Aart Scholte
09 June 2021
Legitimacy in Multistakeholder Global Governance at ICANN

This article examines levels and patterns of legitimacy beliefs toward one of today’s most developed global multistakeholder regimes, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Established in 1998, ICANN oversees rules for, and coordination of, the domain name system (DNS) as a unified addressing scheme for the global internet. ICANN also administers operationalization of two other so-called IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) functions: namely, the allocation of Internet Protocol (IP) numbers and the implementation of protocol parameters (i.e., software standards that enable data transmission across the global internet). In short, without ICANN (or some other body that accomplished its purpose), there would be no internet as we know it.

Two complementary surveys find that levels of legitimacy perceptions toward ICANN often rank alongside, and sometimes ahead of, those for other sites of global governance, both multilateral and multistakeholder. Moreover, average legitimacy beliefs toward ICANN hold consistently across stakeholder sectors, geographical regions, and social groups. However, legitimacy beliefs decline as one moves away from the core of the regime, and many elites remain unaware of ICANN. Furthermore, many participants in Internet governance express only moderate (and sometimes low) confidence in ICANN. To this extent, the regime’s legitimacy is more fragile. Extrapolation from mixed evidence around ICANN suggests that, while multistakeholder global governance is not under existential threat, its legitimacy remains somewhat tenuous.

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