Framing, Fencing and Well-Intentioned Morons

Posted in #openinternet,#operationtitstorm by skepdadblog on February 16, 2010
Tags: , , ,

I was delighted to read this post, which gave definitions to the thoughts I had been having about the way this filter campaign is being run by the Conroy side.  Framing and Fencing.  To carefully choose language in order to reinforce a meme, and to use that reinforced meme in order to discredit an opponent ad hominem.  It’s a great post, and references another very interesting post here.  While I’m pimping links, here’s another good one from geordieguy.

It comes down to this: most people have a fairly consistent idea of Stuff That Is Bad.  Let’s make a list.


  • Porn
  • Child abuse/exploitation
  • Drugs
  • Crime
  • Bestiality
  • Sexualised Violence
  • Pedophiles
  • Terrorists
  • Censorship
  • Illegal Stuff
  • Stuff That’s Banned
  • Waste of Public Funds
  • Weird Fetishes
  • Cronyism
  • Lobbyists
  • Kids Being Exposed To Bad Stuff
  • Government Secrecy
  • Hippies

You may disagree personally on one or more of these, but it’s important to understand that the majority of Australians agree with this list.  Denial won’t help us.  Toss away your soapbox and listen up.  How is Conroy framing his argument? Choose from the above list.


  • Blocking porn
  • Blocking child abuse/exploitation material
  • Blocking information about drugs
  • Blocking information about crime
  • Blocking bestiality material
  • Blocking sexualised violence
  • Blocking pedophiles
  • Blocking terrorists
  • Blocking information about illegal stuff
  • Blocking stuff that’s banned
  • Blocking weird fetish material
  • Preventing kids being exposed to bad stuff

Are these, or are they not, the core tenets of the pro-filter campaign?  Conroy plays directly to the Australian sense of stuff that is bad.  And fair enough – this stuff IS bad.  The pro- campaign is simply awash with noise about how bad stuff is bad and how the magic filter will block it and save our children.  Because of all the noise, there is simply no need to answer the following questions:

“Will the filter actually be effective at blocking all this bad stuff?”

“Will the filter and the campaign around it have any unintended bad side effects?”

Conroy also starts an undercurrent of other fallacies, such as the classic “the filter blocks bad stuff, therefore anyone opposed to the filter must like bad stuff, therefore anyone opposed to the filter is bad”.  He doesn’t tip his hand too much, as over-reaching here will damage his credibility.  Just enough to plant the seed.

So #nocleanfeed and #openinternet come along, and start to ask the important questions.  Unfortunately, #nocleanfeed is a poor meme.  We don’t want a clean feed.  We want a dirty internet.  We are dirty, and we like dirty things.  #openinternet is a much better meme.  We’re for openness.  People like openness.  We start getting heard, and reputable, influential, trustworthy folks start flocking to the cause.  Props to groups like EFA for running a mature and responsible campaign.

But then, along comes the Sex Party, and opposes the filter because they want unrestricted access to porn.  Great job guys.  Conroy must have wet himself with pleasure.  Porn is bad, remember?  You’ve just confirmed Conroy’s argument that people opposed to the filter are dirty and evil, therefore the filter is good.  Magnificent effort.

But even that gormless facepalm is nothing compared to the monumental fail that is #operationtitstorm.  I would be completely unsurprised if it turned out that Anonymous was simply a front for the Australian Christian Lobby, such was the public relations windfall their utterly moronic hack campaign gave the pro-filter argument.  Way to give the government the moral high ground guys.  Retards, please.

So now we have an uphill battle.  I contend that the only way we will have any success is if we use the same tactics as Conroy.  Facts don’t win PR wars, feelings and memes do.  We need to attack the bad stuff that Conroy doesn’t want raised:

  • Waste of Public Funds – the filter will be ineffective and take tens of millions of dollars away from effective measures to increase online safety.
  • Censorship – the filter is a censorship vehicle that can and will have its scope widened once it is made law.  Conroy doesn’t use the word censorship, because he’s afraid of that meme catching hold.
  • Government Secrecy – Conroy is unapologetic about the blacklist remaining secret.
  • Cronyism and Lobbyists – ACMA is not immune to political influence, and has carte blanche to rule out content based on a very wide definition of RC; and that is assuming that the definition of RC is not widened, which it will be.

On top of that, we need to address the unintended consequence argument.  Kids Being Exposed To Bad Stuff:

  • Government message that the net is safe = less adult supervision
  • Almost entirely ineffective filter (and Conroy has publicly admitted this) = unsafe net
  • less supervision + unsafe net = increased harm to kids

Incidentally, this is my primary opposition to the filter.  The only responsible thing for the government to do, if the filter is made law, is to immediately launch an information campaign educating Australia about how ineffective the filter is, and that the net is still unsafe and their kids are still at risk and must be supervised.  Joe Public will go “Whaaaa?  But you just said….???” but by then it will be too late.  Noticed that the “supervise your kids online because the net is dangerous” message is curiously quiet lately?

Many folks in the #openinternet movement are seeing Hungry Beast’s survey as a disaster.  I say it is disappointing, but there is plenty of gold under that rainbow.

  • 80% are in favour of a government filter that blocks RC content.  Unsurprising, as the filter blocks bad stuff.  However, that number can only go down as education about the true inefficacy and unintended side effects of the filter goes up.
  • Only 50% of respondents believe that the government or a government appointed body should decide what’s on that list.  Hit the cronyism, lobbyist and secrecy buttons to bring that number down.
  • 91% want transparency about what’s been blocked.  Can you say “secrecy is bad?”
  • 70% are concerned that the government will expand the content that is blocked after the filter is made law.  Censorship, censorship, big fat China Saudi Arabia Iran censorship.

People, these are the areas we must focus on.  This is what the country thinks is bad.  We are no different to Conroy in that we want bad stuff to be kept out of Australia; we just believe that the “cure” (or, more accurately, homeopathic remedy) is worse than the disease.

One final point on the media.  It occurs to me that the media magnates of the world have a vested interest in seeing the internet reigned in.  It siphons their stories, it puts their content into the hands of freeloaders, and it threatens to render all but the most talented journalists redundant.  Research, live vision and educated opinion are the only valuable old media assets now; they can’t any longer get away with simply re-hashing some “news” from AAP.  Is it so hard to believe that one reason #openinternet is getting so little press is because the media see a golden opportunity to shore up their old-school business model?

We in the new media world need to go beyond preaching to the converted.  You are your family’s computer guy or geek girl.  They trust you on matters tech.  Talk to them about the filter, about secrecy and lobbyists and censorship and increased harm to kids.  Then when it comes up at work, Rotary, the P&C or bowls, they’ll have an educated opinion and not just “porn bad filter good”.


7 Responses to 'Framing, Fencing and Well-Intentioned Morons'

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  1. Victa said,

    Finally someone on the same wavelength as me. You cannot filter the Internet. China proved that.

    It is the media magnates of this world who have the vested interest in seeing this go ahead.

    Use taxpayer’s funds to legislate and install the equipment into ISP’s infrastructure, then it’s a lot easier to spy on who is downloading alleged copyright material.

    I’m sure the future will reveal this. The filter will not work to stop the bad material, but will work for the media magnate’s enforcement police.

  2. anaglyph said,

    Unfortunately, a good part of the problem comes from the fact that most Australians (Senator Conroy among them) don’t really have a very good idea of what ‘the internet’ is in the first place. I think they all see it as some kind of ‘tv’-like entity, and so, for many, the idea that you can put a censorship filter across it makes some kind of sense. However, for anyone who actually knows how the net works, the idea is immediately absurd on numerous levels. The net is not at all like tv, or the movies, or even games, which can all be censored by intercepting the ‘conduit’ of delivery and making assessments on which content can pass through and which can’t.

    I’d put myself in the class of net savvy, maybe even net geeky – but not net ubergeeky, or net wizard. And here’s the thing – I can think of several ways right off the top of my head that I could get round Senator Conroy’s filter. So, if the filter comes online, the ubergeeks and the wizards are (blindingly obviously it seems to me) going to just set up a roaring trade providing pedophiles, fetishists, terrorists and hippies (!) ways to get around the filter (if they don’t already know them).

    Senator Conroy’s big failing here is not his desire to provide a safe internet (assuming that’s his actual agenda), but in his not listening to the real experts in this matter. I don’t know who is advising Stephen Conroy, but any of us with any net skilz at all know that they are either world-class idiots or he’s ignoring them.

    This whole matter smacks so much of knee-jerk politics and ignorance that I am flabbergasted every morning when get the news, to see that it’s still alive. Someone is prodding Conroy to keep going with this, when it’s obvious to all but the very stupid that Australians are not at all happy with his ideas of how or if they should be implemented.

    The Hungry Beast survey doesn’t really tell anyone very much in my opinion – yes Australians would like a nice clean internet, and no they don’t want it under Conroy’s conditions. Big deal. I’d like a million bucks tax free and a plane ticket to the Maldives. We are not in a ‘you can have your cake and eat it’ situation. The internet is full of the very worst and the very best of what humans think and do. What’s happening here is that all of a sudden the Human Condition is in people’s faces and they can’t just pretend it’s not there. They want the government to make the world the way it was again – all clean and nice without perverts and bomb-makers.

    • skepdadblog said,

      I think one of the big mistakes we have been making is assuming that Conroy is honest about his intentions.

      He’s not stupid, he’s not ignorant, he’s not misled. He is, however, not giving us the full story.

      It’s increasingly obvious that this blackwall isn’t, and never was, about providing real protection for children. It’s about political support from the ACL and Family First, which gives the Government leverage in the Senate when it comes to issues that they’re really concerned about.

  3. anaglyph said,

    Agreed. In which case he’s even more reprehensible. He’s willing to cynically trade off the utility of our communications infrastructure (and increasingly a large part of our business infrastructure) for a political handshake and some small votes. It shows once again how little he understands the net, its function and its importance to a country that is geographically so very distant from the rest of the world. In this, I disagree with you – I think he IS stupid. The kind of stupid that comes from hubris and ambition.

  4. anaglyph said,

    I guess you saw this yesterday.

    In part:

    “Why is the internet special?,” he asked, saying the net was “just a communication and distribution platform”.

    If he truly believes this, then he IS an idiot in the educational sense as well as in the cynical manipulation sense.

    • skepdadblog said,

      I did, and the best response was that which asked “well then, what about Australia Post and the telephone system?” They too are just communication and distribution platforms.

      Should we place a parental advisory content rating sticker next to the stamp on each letter we send? Should our phone calls be subject to 5 second delay and automated filtering that will bleep out words such as “bomb”, “gay” and “Conroy wears his arse as a hat”?

  5. anaglyph said,

    Lol. Literally.

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