SkepDad


The Future of the Filter

Posted in #ausvotes,#openinternet by skepdadblog on August 17, 2010
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Scott Ludlam summed it up at the Greens ICT Forum in Brisbane last night: Coalition opposition to the filter is “a promise made by a politician in an election campaign” and thus we have to wonder if it is a core or non-core promise.

The Coalition sat on their hands for a very long time during the filter debate.  Their mantra was “we will wait until we see the legislation” – politspeak for “we’re not committing until we know how many votes are in it”.  Aside from the odd impassioned address from the likes of Joe Hockey, the Coalition doesn’t give the impression at all of being opposed to mandatory internet censorship on principle.  Quite the opposite, as Ludlam was quick to emphasise last night – the Howard government had centralised internet filtering plans of their own but ditched them on advice that they were pragmatically unimplementable.  Conroy simply chose to ignore that advice and press on regardless.

Coalition opposition to Conroy’s filtering proposal in its current form was to a large extent influenced by the likes of EFA and the #openinternet campaign.  Not directly, as even my expansive ego can’t accommodate Mr Rabbit flipping through SkepDad on his Blackberry; but via journalists, who have been busted on a number of occasions lifting tweets and blog posts almost word for word to fill column inches in the major dailies.  Make no mistake: the fishbowl exists, with bloggers exhaling angry bubbles at each other in almost total isolation from the populace; but the hungry cats of the media crouch outside it watching intently.

It may seem that the filter and the NBN have suddenly become major issues in the public’s eye.  Unfortunately that’s not the case, but the media has realised that these are two of only a small number of issues that represent significant, macro differences between the two major parties.  The rest of the campaign, almost exclusively, is simply micro money-tossing at swinging voters in marginal electorates.  Outside of those electorates, there’s little to distinguish the ALP and the Coalition.

This all now begs the question: what is the future of the filter?  To a large and unsurprising extent, it depends on the results of Saturday’s contest.  EFA have addressed the technicalities of the legislative process, but I’d like to look a little deeper.

A Coalition victory would scuttle the filter in its current form.  This is perhaps not as unlikely as you might think, as there is a real possibility that the Coalition will win a majority of seats (primarily due to anti-Labor brand sentiment in QLD and NSW) despite corralling less than 50% of the popular vote.  Given that the Coalition have actively campaigned against the filter, they would almost certainly have to leave it a term before reactivating mandatory centralised filtering in any recognisable form.

That is not to say, however, that a range of measures disguised as cyber-safety initiatives would not be considered under a Coalition government.  It’s difficult to say what they might be though, and pointless to speculate.  A Lib/Nat win is a win for the anti-filter movement for all practical purposes (though the death of the NBN might make that a hollow victory).

Now the interesting part: an ALP victory on Saturday.  Conroy will view it as a public endorsement of the filter, despite the ALP’s shameless attempt to clear the decks of it as an election issue.  Don’t delude yourself that Conroy won’t be returned to the Senate, despite the admirable efforts of groups like Filter Conroy – Conroy is second on the ALP ballot, and between 80% and 95% of people vote above the line in the Senate.  That means that ALP Senate support would need to fall below 28.6% – including above the line preferences – for Conroy to miss out.  I don’t know what the odds are on that, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

The Greens may or may not hold the balance of power in the Senate, which leaves us with the unpleasant prospect of the ALP needing only to win over the few independents in order to railroad an unmodified filter proposal into law.  As disturbing as this is, it is unlikely purely due to the numbers involved.

The greatest risk from an anti-filter perspective is that a Coalition opposition will realise that they’re not quite as dogmatically opposed to filtering as they were when they saw it as a vote-winner.  What would it take for the opposition to be wedged on the filter in exchange for something?  Maybe some cost-cutting measures in the NBN proposal?  Maybe greater emphasis on child protection?

It’s not hard to imagine the Coalition distancing themselves from their anti-filter position if the proposal was changed just enough to let them state that it was a new ball game.  The Greens might howl in protest, but the ALP would sit quietly and not make a peep about backflipping.

What would those changes need to be?  Certainly a change to opt-in would be compelling, especially combined with some action to address the secrecy concerns.  The Coalition has been focusing however on other issues in their opposition – speed hits, ineffectiveness.   You and I and the rest of the “digital elite” can argue the difference between speed, response time, bandwidth and latency until the return of Firefly, but once the NBN is law the speed argument effectively goes away for most people.  The ALP have their “one of a range of measures” mantra to address the effectiveness issue, however disingenuously.

The filter isn’t dead.  Not by a long shot.  A Labor government will not need to convince you, me and the Greens that it is a good idea.  It would only need to help a Coalition opposition to find a credible way to lean back to its pre-2010 filtering preference, away from its anti-filter election platform; which may only require tiny semantic changes or a backroom stitch-up.

So on a purely filter-based platform, a Green vote is essential in the Senate.  Without the Senate balance of power, an unmodified filter has a good chance of going through.  Senate preferences should flow Liberal if you’re anti-filter, but that means voting below the line.  Senate votes shouldn’t affect the NBN, as only an unlikely Coalition Senate majority could prevent that if the ALP is returned and if they are not, well the NBN is dead anyway.

In the Lower House, a Green vote is both anti-filter and pro-NBN, but unless you live in a Green-dominated seat it is your Reps Coalition/ALP preference that will decide the future of the filter.  A returned Labor will run a significant risk of a filtering proposal being made law with only minor, if any, changes.  Optimistic pundits may say that a high Green primary vote may send a message to Conroy that his filter is unwelcome, but my impression of him is not one of a man open to messages and inferred dissent.  You need to assess for yourself if the clear and present risk of a modified filter is worth losing fibre to your door, and adjust your Reps Coalition/ALP vote – either primary, or first preference – accordingly.

This post has been syndicated on Election Blackout.

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Censorship of Mobile Apps and Games

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on August 16, 2010
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The ALP has decided to tighten the noose on mobile content.  The current state of play is that mobile games and apps are effectively exempt from content rating, which applies to movies, commercial games, physically distributed print media and music; and the ALP just can’t let that stand.

Insisting that every game or app provider wishing to make content available to Australians must submit their app to ACMA (incurring a hefty fee in the process) is pretty shortsighted, given the huge numbers, the budgets involved and the inconsistency of applying these rules to mobile downloads only.

Perhaps the architects of this policy have never heard of the internet.  Because anyone who has used the internet for more than five minutes knows that there are huge numbers of things, free and otherwise, that can be downloaded for local consumption – whether that be for mobile or more traditional PC/Mac/*nix platforms – and just as much consumable directly in a browser.  Look at Facebook apps/games as just one example.  How can the ALP decide to regulate the iPhone Lightsaber app, but not Farmville?  Android games, but not Flash games?  What about podcasts?  What about playing Truth or Fail on YouTube?

The policymakers need to understand that media is shifting away from high-budget boxed product (cinema movies, DVDs, CDs, boxed games) to more agile models where budgets are often tiny and prices are often zero.  Content is often provided for no commercial gain, but purely for the thrill of producing something that others might enjoy.  The Internet is essentially unregulatable (despite the ALP’s best efforts) and any attempt to regulate or censor it is always going to be full of fail.  If it’s not sold in a box in a store, or distributed in a physical Australian venue, or broadcast on a regulated tv spectrum, content rating cannot be pragmatically enforced by Australian beaurocrats no matter how many Family First preferences depend on it.

Don’t get me wrong – I agree with parental advisories and content rating.  They are a useful guideline for those parents who actually bother to take an interest in what their kids are consuming.  They are a different thing however to censorship, which I have covered in detail on this blog and elsewhere; and they are subject to the laws of reality and the tyrannies of scale.

Whether you are a strident pro-censorship protectionist buffoon, a passionate anti-regulation liberal anarchist, or anywhere along the line between, you simply can’t deny that the pure volume of content and the cost models involved preclude individual centralised proactive classification.

The only model that can work is one where content vendors have incentive to adhere to voluntary content advisories, and this is backed up by a complaints-based mechanism of review.  By engaging with industry (a foreign concept to the autocrats in the ALP, I know) the Government can negotiate in the interests of children and consumers without wasting time and money on blinkered, piecemeal and unrealistic white elephants.

ACMA has a future as a watchdog, to be let off the chain where breaches of classification guidelines are reported.  It does not have one as a bouncer, separating consumers and content until a protectionist burden of proof is satisfied.

Decision Wellington

Posted in #atheism,#ausvotes,#openinternet by skepdadblog on July 19, 2010

I cooked Beef Wellington for the family last night.  As my son dislikes anything that isn’t Vegemite sandwiches, my daughter is in a contrarian phase and my wife was a little harried at the aforementioned children, I had the lion’s share of it.  Which, given my occasional culinary success, wasn’t a bad thing.

This election is a bit like that Wellington.  At the heart of it is a big slab of beef – my beef against conjob Conroy and his patriarchal and dangerous moral panic filter.  Said beef is coated in tangy mustard – the condiment that tastes amazing in moderation and burns the tongue if used irresponsibly.  Such is the delicious yet occasionally painful debate around the censorwall.

The seasoned beef is rolled in the messy mushroom, onion and celery duxelle of focus-group-driven policy on the run to appeal to swing voters in marginal electorates.  This serves to cloud the debate and hide the all-important beef from view.   Finally, the lot is rolled up in the puff pastry of spin and sniping that we must carve through to get to the issues.

I think that’s +1 internets for pushing that analogy as far as it could go, and minus several dozen internets for a dodgy analogy in the first place?

Here’s my problem.  I think Joolia would make a better prime minister than Tony.  Sorry Tony, it has to be said.  However, the Labor party makes me want to eat my own face.  The Liberals, despite their faults, are a party that I can get behind in the House of Reps because I feel, however misguided this may be, that they are at the heart a slightly more honourable, slightly less grubby party.  That matters to me.

the Liberals have a policy of opposing Conroy’s filter in the form that has been debated over the past six months.  That matters to me as well.  The Greens are even more steadfastly opposed.  This, direct from a Green Senate candidate:

… we are vehemently opposed to the internet filter and think it should be ditched rather than just shelved. … Our commitment to this issue is firm and we do not engage in policy-for-preferences.”

I believe Joolia’s atheism would be better for the nation than Tony’s catholicism.  This matters to me a lot.  So…

Do I vote for a party I can’t stand, implicitly supporting a filtering proposal that I also vehemently oppose, to get the PM that I’d prefer?

Do I vote for a bible basher PM who would in all likelihood be as diplomatically and culturally savvy as the Duke of York (though, given Gillard’s treatment of East Timor, it might be a close race on the diplomacy) to get the party I’d prefer and oppose the filter?

Do I… vote… Green?   Hmmm.  Never done that before.

Green in the Senate seems a no-brainer.  The preferences deal with Labor gives them a boost for the balance of power in the Upper House.  One part of me wonders if, given that the filter was a play for Fielding’s Senate vote in the first place, Labor would stick to it once they no longer need Family First?  In any case, with the balance of power, the Green’s stated firm opposition to the filter would be enough to prevent it ever getting into law.

So it seems to me that it will be Greens first and Labor last in the Senate, and maybe even Green in the Reps, with preferences to Gillard (not – hear me well here ALP – to Labor).  I get the right PM, stop the filter and sleep well on Saturday night.  Might even cook a celebratory Wellington.  The Libs ditch Tony as unelectable (sorry Tony, I genuinely feel a bit of fraternal sympathy for you) so Hockey can toss Labor out on their ear in 2013.  Result.

Then, on Monday 23 August, it’s on with Education Revolution II to get the fucking bibles out of state primary schools.

we are vehemently opposed to the internet filter and think it should be ditched rather than just shelved. Clause 81 of our media and communications policy states that we want to “ensure that regulation of the internet is transparent, accountable and protects freedom of speech, expression and access to information”. Senator Ludlam has done a lot of work on this issue since that policy was finalised, so the most up to date summary of our position and all our recent statements on it is available here http://www.greensmps.org.au/category/issues/communications-arts/telecommunications/broadband/internet-filter.
Our commitment to this issue is firm and we do not engage in policy-for-preferences.

Just how dense do you think we are, Julia?

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on July 9, 2010
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The flame-haired wonder has backflipped on the filter.  Celebrations, vuvuzelas and unbridled downloading of snuff movies all around.

Oh, wait – or was it just a cynical ploy to try and take a deeply unpopular policy off the table as an election issue?  Nah, couldn’t be.  That would be… well, manipulative and disingenuous.

Of course, if you look up disingenuous in the dictionary, there’s a photo of Stephen Conroy, thumbs up and grinning.

So here’s “backflip day” in a few heavily commented media stories:

I’m sure there are many more, and I’d appreciate links to any crackers in the comments.

My fellow geeks, skeptics, dads and Australians of all denominations: if anything this should be a call to arms.  The Government clearly knows this is a vote loser, and is simply trying to sweep it under the rug.  They will yank it out from under the rug, dust it off and plug it in the minute they are re-elected, all the time claiming an implied mandate from the people who returned them.  They are subverting democracy in the most cynical and clumsy way possible.

Don’t fall for it.

Social Media Experiment

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on July 9, 2010
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So, I created a Facebook Group entitled

I will vote against Labor because of Conroy’s filter

If you feel this way, join it and help me send a message to Labor that they might understand.

Stay the Course

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on July 8, 2010
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Oh Julia, we had such high hopes for you.

Would you crawl out from under the ACL yoke that bound your predecessor, and send Conroy’s filter back to the confessional in which it was conceived?  Would you see the sense in keeping a tenuous grasp on the new media-savvy Gen X/Y/Z voters by sacking Conroy and installing Kate Lundy, who by all reports has a better grasp on the portfolio anyway?  Would you lend an ear to the serious democratic concerns raised by opponents of the filter?

Sigh.

For those of you as disappointed as myself in Gillard’s endorsement of the filter, my advice is this: stay the course.  It is not done, and it is not over.

Firstly the filter is back on the table as an election issue.  The real danger was that Labor would suppress any commentary on the filter until after the election, removing it from the minds and voting pencils of those opposed, and claim an implied mandate if they won.  That, it seems, won’t now happen.  Gillard has made her position clear, and I expect to see vocal debate on the filter as a genuine election issue.  This is a good thing for us, as informed debate is the enemy of Conroy’s misdirection and spin.

Let’s remind ourselves of the key reasons to oppose the filter:

  • False security.  The filter will lead to an increase in children being exposed to undesirable content on the internet, because un- or mis-educated parents will view the filter as a safety net and supervise their children less online.
  • Dangers from workarounds.  Many people, particularly young folk, will circumvent the filter as a matter of principle.  Many of the circumvention solutions involve using third-party proxies or VPN solutions, which are not all to be trusted.  Fraud, and potentially child abuse, will increase as kids fall for these dodgy workarounds.
  • Censorship.  The “secret” blacklist already contains URLs which are not related to RC content, despite Conroy’s claims that the filter is intended to only filter RC URLs.  Furthermore, the scope of RC can be expanded by future governments to encompass anything they find undesirable.  The filter hands future goverments carte blanche to impose their (or any effective lobby group’s) morality on the Australian public.  Also, as the list is complaints-based, anyone can request that any URL be added to it.  This will certainly not be abused in any way.
  • Secrecy.  In all other media, the list of banned material is publicly available.  Conroy’s excuse for keeping the internet blacklist secret is that people would then have a link to go and look at it.  But how could they look at it if it was blocked by the filter?  Knowing the name of a banned book (e.g. the Peaceful Pill Handbook) allows me to go to an online international bookseller, legally order it, legally import it and legally possess and read it.  How is that different?
  • Child protection.  The filter does not in any way help protect children from online predators, nor does it in any way help to catch purveyors or creators of child abuse content.  if anything, the budget diverted to this entirely useless filter takes money away from policing, which is effective at catching these criminals.  Child protection groups like Save The Children are opposed to the filter.
  • Misdirection and lies.  Conroy continues to brand anti-filter as equivalent to pro-child abuse or pro-porn.  He continues to “consult” only with organisations that are pro-filter.   He continues to deliberately confuse “RC” with “illegal”.  He continues to talk up the illegal content that falls under RC, without ever mentioning the perfectly legal content that also falls under RC.  He continues to spread misdirection about “cinemas and newsagents”, ignoring the legitimate issues with his proposal.  He continues to abuse parliamentary privilege to attack informed, considered opposition.  He continues to mislead you, the Australian people.  He wants his proposal in, and he doesn’t want the truth standing in the way.
  • Ulterior motive.  Gillard has a confidence problem with the ACL and christians in general, having come out about her atheism.  The filter is a ploy to get their votes back.  Furthermore, given the Labor minority in the Senate, they need the support of Family First Senator Steve Fielding.  Fielding has had a key hand in the drafting of the filtering proposal.  It’s about votes, not about protecting kids.

Get the word out.  Don’t vote for this filter.

“The State must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.”
– Adolf Hitler, “Mein Kampf”

Lies, damned lies and Conroy

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on April 8, 2010
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It is a colorless and odorless chemical compound. Its basis is the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, a species shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. The atomic components are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol.

It is a constituent of many known toxic substances, diseases and disease-causing agents, environmental hazards and can be lethal to humans in quantities as small as a thimbleful.  In gaseous form, it can cause severe burns.

Each year, it is a known causative component in many thousands of deaths and is a major contributor to millions upon millions of dollars in damage to property and the environment.

86% of people surveyed support banning this substance, dihydrogen monoxide.  Do you?

Congratulations, you just banned water.  (With thanks to DHMO.org)

And that, my friends, is the problem with polls.

The Punch has run a couple of articles on the blackwall in the past two days; the first from Conroy himself and the latest from the journalist/apologist/polemicist (I can’t decide which) Paul Colgan waggling his finger at the predictably incensed response to Conroy’s missive.

Colgan’s point is that the outrage of the blogosphere is counterproductive and unrepresentative of wider public opinion, as represented by polling.  I won’t argue with the first point, as some of the commentary was definitely out of order; but that’s what you get when you open the floor to the general public.  It’s a little naive to expect anything different.

The second point is argued in such an idiotic fashion as to make me wonder how this chap presumably earns a living as a “serious journalist”.  Polling can be designed to give any answer you’re looking for, the results being useful only in the precise context in which they’re asked.  Furthermore, as the H2O example above demonstrates (and has been experimentally verified) people can easily be influenced with the right choice of language.

Quoting Coglan’s piece:

“What the debate almost entirely failed to reflect was the overwhelming popularity of Conroy’s plan with the general public.  A recent poll put support for mandatory government filtering of child abuse material at 80 per cent.”

The actual poll result was this:

80% of people said they were in favour of “having a mandatory Government Internet filter that would automatically block all access in Australia, to overseas websites containing material that is Refused Classification”. Survey participants were first read a definition of ‘Refused Classification’ as follows:

Images and information about one or more of the following:

–    child sexual abuse
–    bestiality
–    sexual violence
–    gratuitous, exploitative or offensive sexual fetishes; and
–    detailed instructions on or promotion of crime, violence or use of illegal drugs

Where do I start.  Firstly, the above definition is not even close to a comprehensive definition of RC, nor does it go into how things are added to the list or who controls it.  It’s too detailed to repost here, but you can find out from this page at ACMA.  Suffice to say that the points above are the most alarmist of the many areas that RC touches, and thus to most likely to engender revulsion in a respondent.  Furthermore all these, with the possible exception of fetishes, are illegal but RC encompasses much which is totally legal to possess and purchase.

Secondly: even if the respondents were fully aware of what RC encompassed, they were not asked if they supported “Conroy’s plan”.  They were asked if they “were in favour of having a mandatory Government Internet filter that would automatically block all access in Australia, to overseas websites containing … RC … material”.  Even if you accept that the respondents understood the full impact of those words, in the short time they had to absorb them,  Conroy’s plan is much wider reaching than just this.

The question that the respondents really had to deal with, given the cognitive processes involved with processing such complex aural information, would have been closer to this: “Should the Government block websites that have evil illegal stuff on them?” I’m surprised only 80% answered affirmatively.  But that’s not the same thing as supporting “Conroy’s plan” Mr Coglan.

For a journalist with such faith in polls, it’s surprising (or perhaps not, given the post’s blinkered tone) that Coglan didn’t reference the other results in the same poll.

Despite clear support for the filter, far fewer people (50%) were in favour of “a Government appointed body determining whether a website is appropriate for you to visit”.

and:

an overwhelming 91% of people were in favour of “the community being advised which websites have been Refused Classification and the reason why they have been refused classification”.

and:

70% of Australians are concerned that “future Governments could use Internet Filtering technology to restrict free speech or block other forms of website content they don’t approve of”.

and many more.   But we don’t talk about those polls, do we.  Run the same poll again, but put the first question last.  Different result?

Conroy states that he welcomes debate, but his actions say a very different thing.  Educated opposition is either downplayed (in the case of the US Government) or attacked (Google and EFA) in exactly the same histronic manner which Coglan bemoans.

There will be no debate, ignorance is Conroy’s ally in this issue.  When people and organisations learn the details, they oppose it.  The misdirection and half-truths will continue until it becomes an election issue, or until Rudd comes up with a diversion.

I will vote on this issue, and I know many others who will also.

Riding the Nepotism Train to Voteville

Posted in #openinternet,#skigate by skepdadblog on February 17, 2010
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What has our favourite senator been up to lately?

Now I’m not saying that Conroy is corrupt – Tony Abbott says that far better than I could – but he’s certainly no stranger to “private meetings with stakeholders”.  Remember when Conroy privately briefed the Australian Christian Lobby – and only the ACL – on the results of the filtering trial before announcing the filter legislation?

I’m confused about this use of the term “stakeholders” too.  Stokes and the ACL clearly have a vested interest in the proposals.  But aren’t they the ones benefiting from them? If you decide you’re going to raid your dad’s wallet to take your girlfriend to dinner, should you consult your dad or your girlfriend?  Britney’s thinking about the delicious lobster.  Dad’s thinking about the mortgage.  As your hand closes around a couple of fifties, you’re thinking about the sweet lovin’ after dessert.  Britney’s a firecracker, but that don’t make it right.

Surely the Australian taxpayer is a more important stakeholder as we’re the ones actually footing the bill with our hard-earned battler dollars.  Where’s our private briefing?  Where’s our consultation?  As usual, we’re the suckers who do the work, pay the bills and watch while Conroy uses our money to buy a solid gold ticket on the nepotism train to Voteville.

Not my vote, Conroy.  Not my vote, Kevin.  How do you sleep at night?

A Simple Solution to the Censorship Filter

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on February 16, 2010
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Work with me here.

The federal government, possibly in partnership with Google, creates a national ISP as part of the NBN.  Google Tubes?

This ISP provides means-tested internet access to all Australians (residential only, or commercial too? I don’t know, what do you think?).  The lowest income earners pay nothing.  Everybody else pays market rates.

This internet connection is filtered however Conroy wants to.  But it is opt-out.

The people of Australia then have a choice.  If they so desire, they can have a Safe For Children (TM) internet connection at a fair price.  If they are an Aussie Battler (TM) they get free access to the world of education and self-actualisation that the internet provides.  Cue a ticker tape parade for the Labor government.

ISPs are spared the expense and trouble of implementing flawed mandatory filtering.  They may lose a bit of business to this new competitor, but the market rates for all but the most disadvantaged (and thus unlikely to pay for a commercial ISP) will limit churn to only those who want a filter.

The people of Australia are spared state censorship unless they really want it.

So, where are the holes in this brilliant and insightful plan?

Framing, Fencing and Well-Intentioned Morons

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

BAD STUFF

  • 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.

CONROY’S PRO-FILTER ARGUMENTS

  • 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”.

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