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Stopping Australian Internet Censorship: Strategy Discussion #nocensorship #nocleanfeed

On Saturday January 10th, I went to a meeting of the Brisbane branch of the Digital Liberty Coalition, and came away with the job of drafting a leaflet for the next small public protest, planned for Australia Day.

The leaflet needs to reflect the strategy of the anti-censorship campaign. After the December 13th 2008 rallies in six capital cities, plus the one in Hobart a week later, some very useful debate about strategy and tactics cropped up. I want this article to bring that debate to as wide an audience as possible, and I want to use that debate to draft the leaflet. There are several different possible strategies, and we need to know what people think is the most effective one.

Using the terms "Clean Feed" and "filtering" instead of "censorship"

I brought up this topic at the meeting last night, after this comment about the December 13th 2008 rally in Melbourne:

Several speakers and posters referred to internet “filtering”.

That, like the “no cleanfeed” campaign name, reflects success of the enemy’s slick marketing strategy which has involved spending millions to spread the concept of “internet safety” - and similar doublespeak.

Other speakers did not mention filtering and spoke only of “censorship”. I suspect the organizers understand the point, and are trying to make the shift, but have not yet grasped the fact that making the shift itself requires open discussion/debate of the difference at rallies - ie take the opportunity of those speakers or posters referring to filtering to explain the purpose of a policy of never referring to filters, but only to censorship.

Also, such policies need to be debated at organizing meetings and formally adopted, so people fully understand (and can change) the tactics.

The Government's tactics are based on getting people to assume that the Internet is dangerous and dirty, and that people need to Government to clean it up for them. I agree with the argument that using words like "clean feed" and "filter" put us on the back foot. I think that use of those words should be discouraged by people campaigning against the Government's censorship plans.

It's been argued here that this means making anti-censorship the main thrust of the campaign, and that this is bad because we need to convince people who do not support free speech as a principle. I agree that we do need to win over people who don't hold free speech as an absolute good, but I think when we mention the Government's plans, we can still label them as what they are - censorship - while still appealing to moderate people. We do that by not making anti-censorship the main thrust of our arguments. For instance, the same comment I just linked to says "many people who are anti-Mandatory ISP Level Filtering don’t care about
the censorship angle either - they are against $44m white elephants".

If we decided, for example,  to make that point about white elephants the main thrust of the anti-censorship campaign, when we mention it we would say "The Government's internet censorship plan will cost $44 million of your money" instead of "The Government's internet filter will cost $44 million of your money". Using the word "censorship" does not in itself imply making censorship the main thrust of the campaign.

At the meeting last night, we discussed how we might go about convincing people who use Twitter (including many Australian anti-Internet-censorship activists) to not use the "hashtag" #nocleanfeed and switch instead to #nocensorship. (A "hashtag" is a word with the "hash" symbol (#) in front of it. Hashtags can be tracked using a service like twitter search. Click here to see the most recent twitter posts with #nocleanfeed, and click here to see the most recent twitter posts with #nocensorship. If you look at the posts on and after January 10th 2009, you'll notice a lot of debate has already sprung up about which hashtag should be used.

In fact, which hashtag is used on twitter is not that important in itself. Twitter is mostly going to be used by people who are already active in campaigns or engaged with the issue. But calling the Government's plans either "censorship" or a "filter", or "clean feed", in front of the public, over and over again, will allow one idea or the other to seep out into the community.

How do we reassure people when the Internet can't possibly be controlled?

One idea that I originally quite liked is that we should tell people who are worried about what their kids might see on the Internet that they can install programs on their own computers, so they can control what their kids can and can't see. This comment made me think twice about that:

...the line pushed by ISPs and others that parents can control kids access effectively is completely unrealistic.

It is also radically inconsistent with simultaneous arguments that
censorship won’t work because people who want to get access to
forbidden porn can easily use technical workarounds.

Basically its dishonest campaigning. The real options are government
censorship or kids being able to access porn and parents needing to be
able to help them to deal with that.

A better argument is that governments taking responsibility
undermines kids and parents learning how to deal with it, when this in
fact is the only way to deal with it, since government censorship merely encourages furtive interest in the forbidden.

IIt's dead easy to get around the filter. Anyone with even my low level of technical knowledge can use a proxy to get around censorship. And all it takes is one good article in plain language and millions of people without even my knowledge will be able to use one as well. 

So, how do we reassure people who might be convinced by pro-censorship arguments because they are afraid of what children might see online? I see two major lines we can use here:

1) We can say that the best way to protect children is to have an open, honest relationship with them, so that they will feel free to tell you about what they see online.

2) We can keep on saying that money needs to go to the police who actually hunt down online predators, instead of on a filter that won't work.

Seeing paedophiles everywhere is a form of child abuse in itself.

This article at Strange Times suggests a new approach to the argument. The idea is that, as social conservatives look for (and see) child abuse everywhere, even in innocent photos of naked children, they are the ones who are creating an atmosphere of sexualised childhood. They are the ones with dirty minds who see a ped under every bed. This argument implies that we need to label Rudd, Conroy, Hamilton etc as the ones who are really damaging children.

So then, here is my first draft of a leaflet for January 26th (and, I hope, beyond) that uses some of these arguments. Please post your comments, suggestions, corrections etc - these ideas need to be debated by as many people as possible. Pro-censorship trolling not welcome at this debate.

For reference, see the leaflet that was handed out at the anti-censorship rallies on December 13th 2008. This leaflet can be downloaded from here.

Stop Internet Censorship in Australia

Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia.

All of these countries exercise strict controls over what its citizens can read online.

The Rudd Labor government wants to add Australia to that list, and is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to subject all internet users to a secret and unaccountable blacklist.

Please read more about the plan, learn about what the government is doing to our rights online, and find out more about what you can do to protect those rights.


No. Anyone who wants to get around Government censorship can use a "proxy". This is a simple and easy way of hiding what you are doing on the Internet, and it means that you'll be able to look at anything the Government doesn't want you to see. Websites like www.hotspotshield.com and www.torproject.org make it easy for you to use proxies to get around censorship - they are already used by millions of people in the dictatorships where the Internet is censored. Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans, Saudi Arabians and many others don't let their governments tell them what they can see and do online - and Australians won't either.

So if it won't work, why are you worried?

Because we take child protection seriously. Minister Conroy's excuse for trying to censor the Internet is that children are victims of pornography on the Internet, both by seeing it online and by being forced to make child pornography. But the best way - the ONLY way - to stop child pornography online is to make sure the police who hunt down child predators get the money they need to do their job. Minister Conroy's censorship plan will cost $40 million (and that's just for starters) - every single cent of that should go to the police, instead of to a censorship plan that won't work.

What about children who see pornography online? If people like Minister Conroy have their way, we'd all be scared, and lock the Internet up tightly. People like Minister Conroy would like that, because people who are scared need the Government to protect them, instead of looking after themselves. Instead of doing what the Government wants, and jumping at shadows, you can protect your children by having an open and honest relationship with them so they will tell you about what they see online. That way, you'll be able to seriously discuss it with them, you'll be able to give them the help and support and power they need, and you'll know if something is giving them problems.

This is a big choice, and it's a little scary for some people. But if you want your children to grow up strong, and able to look after themselves, censorship isn't the way. It teaches them that they need someone else to hide the bad parts of the world from them. A better way is to teach children that parts of the world are pretty bad, and they need to be strong so they can deal with it.

Instead, we have a Government which assumes that everyone is a potential child molester who needs to have parts of the Internet hidden away from them. Isn't that a pretty weird and creepy way for your Government to think?

How do we stop this censorship?

The Government needs to pass a new law to make this happen. At the moment, the Greens and the Liberal/National Coalition are against the censorship plan, which means the Government won't be able to pass that law - so they won't be able to censor the Internet. The Greens look pretty solid, which means we need to concentrate on the Liberals and Nationals.

There are two sides to this debate inside the Liberal and National Parties. One side doesn't want the Internet companies to do the Government's dirty work - that side supports free speech. The other side gets their support from pro-censorship people, and would love to support the censorship plan. So we need to do everything we can to make sure that the pro-free-speech people inside the Coalition win the argument.

That means we need to convince as many people as we can that this plan is a bad idea. When Liberal Party MPs and Senators talk to their voters and supporters, we want those supporters to tell them not to support Internet censorship. So when you're talking to your friends and relatives, think about the arguments in this leaflet, and discuss them. Remind your friends and relatives that the only way to protect children online is to fund the police properly, and that it's the job of parents to help their children deal with life, and that parents don't need the Government to tell them how to raise their children.

Where can I find more information?

Look up these websites, and join in the discussion:








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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License.

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Des Walsh said...

I can work with what you have put up here David. I am immensely impresed with the succinct, plain English explanation and strategy.

David J said...

Thanks very much, Des. This article by George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language", is my constant guide to how to write clear, plain English - everyone should read it.

Felicia said...

I posted this at Whirlpool, but I'll post it here too in case the thread there gets deleted:

The only comment I would make is, under the heading "If It Won't Work, Why You Worried", you make good points, but the main reason *I* am worried is that once it's in place it will be almost impossible to get rid of it. So basically, I'm worried that if we don't do something now, we'll be stuck with a system that's doesn't work because neither party has the balls to admit that it doesn't work.
But admittedly that *is* just speculation, so I can understand if you don't want to put it in. Just wanted to weigh in:-)

Pam Rosengren said...

We need to take control of the way this debate is framed. The current frames are "clean feed" - we who are outside that frame are dirty. Even when framed as "censorship", we who are outside that frame must like porn. These frames are equivalent. The "filter" frame similarly evokes impurity, and as a technical term is meaningless to most people.

For more about taking back public discourse via framing see http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/19811/ . I am about to read that again, and study this post plus the Clean Feed concept map http://dnosauria.net/2009/01/14/clean-feed-concept-map-v1/comment-page-1/#comment-1696 plus what the EFA has to say http://www.efa.org.au/2009/01/14/filtering-wont-deliver-for-aussie-kids/ then blog what I come up with. I will link that here and on Twitter.

When we've got the frame, strategy will be easier. At present the complexities of this issue favour obfuscation.

CloCkWeRX said...

I am a huge proponent of the mistrust-government approach.

Basically; when has the government gotten something right? They are bumblers at best, horrible red tape machines the rest of the time.

Basically, the thought process goes:
1) Government will spend $44 million dollars on a clean feed for the internet
2) Conroy avoid questions in the Senate, and accuses everyone on the other side of the issue of being a pedophile
3) No one can watch question time snippets / etc and think "Conroy is doing a good thing; in an honest way". He acts like a child.
4) If the filter doesn't work; calling it a "clean feed" is a lie

Question: Why are we letting an idiot who lies to us put something that won't work in place with our money?

People don't care about free speech as much as they should.

I'll bet that almost everyone works with at least one clueless person; and doesn't like them to some degree - it is much easier to relate to.

Pam Rosengren said...

David is this leaflet aimed at passers-by, or at people who attend the rally? Some of it looks like it is aimed at people attending the rally. I think there should be a more general one for people going past, because we need to get their support. (Strategy could be discussed on a wiki somewhere, a wiki independent of all groups.)

At first, I couldn't see where the draft leaflet was. I thought you were going into another blog post about Burma etc. If you start this way, I think it would be better to put it as a question: "What does Australia have in common with Burma etc etc. It will soon have the same kind of Internet censorship!" (That way it is a lot clearer what it is about and why they should read it.)

However, I think the way to get broader support would be to head the leaflet instead with a practical question which frames the debate in terms of the day-to-day problems people will face e.g. 'Will you let the government impose a slow, expensive, broken internet?' Then maybe briefly explain the slowing (as people don't know how this is possible, trust me), state the costs (taxpayer and user), and give a couple of examples of breakage e.g. banning Wikipedia. Mention the economic, business and employment implications of the slowing and wrongly blocked sites.

Now that primacy effect is on our side, we can deal with the rest.

e.g. bring in that very good line about not caring about the censorship angle, just being against $44m white elephants (isn't it going to cost more than that?). That says the c word, but on our terms. Maybe remind readers of the last filter, and how a schoolkid broke it quickly - can't remember how many hours it was, but can find out. Could ask readers to think what the money could be better spent on.

"so if it won't work, why are we worried?

Because we take child protection seriously." - Good, but I would stay away from any mention of "scared" "scary" etc because that leaves everything within the government's scare-mongering frame. Remember, if you negate a frame you invoke that frame - instead, we need to find a new frame. Otherwise the discourse is on their terms and they win.

May I suggest this instead:

It is well known that there is no technological solution to protecting children on the internet. This is because there are different types of risks to children on the internet. This proposed filter deals with the least serious risk, which is looking at static images. It is incapable of dealing with the much greater risks associated with using social networking sites i.e. those relating to interactions with people (bullies, predators) and e-security problems (misuse of information). To protect against those greater risks, parents need to put the computers in the family room and be there too. If parents think that the kids are safe on the web because the government filter is there, it could lead to tragedy.

I suggest staying right away from the debate about sexualisation of children - again because the government controls that frame. (I do agree with what you are saying, but I don't think that should be here. Same for anything that looks paranoid.)

A leaflet for passers-by needs to be brief and without geek speak. Even the use of the word 'proxy' will glaze the eyes of many people and they won't read any further. At the last Brisbane rally most of the placards spoke to geeks, so many people going past didn't know what the rally was about. Is anyone recommending more user-friendly placards that will communicate better to passers-by? And is anybody suggesting that people leave all their other bits of political branding at home so it looks like an internet rally not an against-everything rally like all the rallies seem to these days?

Anonymous said...

These are being created for Australia Day to use nationally and at present, they will go out to people passing volunteers by on the streets rather then at an event such as a rally.

Regarding a framework, here's the one Mark Newton uses:

"Is anyone recommending more user-friendly placards that will communicate better to passers-by? And is anybody suggesting that people leave all their other bits of political branding at home so it looks like an internet rally not an against-everything rally like all the rallies seem to these days?"

You'll find most rallies that are expecting to gain some coverage will end up with some form of 'hijacking' as it's difficult to avoid. At the last rallies, it was suggested what sort of placard messages to use. Some took it on board, others didn't. Marshalls did speak to people about the relevance of some material people used but usually, it's easier to let them know and hope next time they take it more seriously then have participants feel the event was a negative experience because they feel they're being 'singled out' etc.


Can I add - for all the well informed individuals in the blogosphere, where are you at the real life events?!

Volunteers with a good understanding of the issue are *needed*. Handing out fliers to the community is an opportunity for a face-to-face discussion about the issue with the public. It's also an opportunity to show people "who" the anti-filter movement are - parents, teens, internet users etc.

Everyone needs to show their face once and awhile ;-) Let the public see we're a diverse group of friendly people, give the naysayers a better idea of the sort of people we are instead of allowing them to believe the labels Conroy and Childwise have placed upon us. It's hard for them to see your nice smile through a monitor so take it to the streets ;-)

Pam Rosengren said...

Jasmine I am not talking about a framework for dealing with an issue.

I am talking about the linguistic and conceptual framing of a debate, in the way George Lakoff uses the term framing. This has to do with the meanings people take on board despite what we are trying to say. Lakoff's analysis, summarised in the link I gave to "Don't Think of an Elephant" shows why those who control the frame almost always win. Lakoff explains it very simply, even in the first few paragraphs. Unless we take control of the framing of the debate i.e. unless we move away from the words and concepts used by the government, we will remain "on the back foot". They will be clean, we will be trying to defend ourselves from the perception of being unclean. That is what I mean by framing.

Re where all the well-informed people from the blogosphere are at rally time: hardly anybody wants to go and stand in the midday heat soaking up all the UV rads. There has to be a better time to do this. I know the media pack up early on Saturdays, but there are other days and we have our own media now.

A couple of years back, Defective by Design (DBD) co-ordinated lots of small gatherings of people to raise awareness of digital rights management. It was highly effective and was the beginning of the end of DRM. I sometimes wonder if it would be more effective to co-ordinate small groups of volunteers to hand out leaflets and talk to people in the community, at lots of different places and times, rather than try for a big central rally. (DBD documented what was done and publicised it on the web. They had 10,000 activists worldwide.) Just my 2c worth, I intend to go to the rally if I can.

Anonymous said...

When I said where are the volunteers I didn't mean attendance to rallies. I meant to meetings (Skype or in real life) and OTHER gatherings. I agree that small gatherings can effective.

"I sometimes wonder if it would be more effective to co-ordinate small groups of volunteers to hand out leaflets and talk to people in the community, at lots of different places and times"

This is EXACTLY what we are trying to do for Australia Day and during uni o-weeks, however, few people are willing to or available to help us. Most cities are having a problem gaining volunteers for activities away from the computer so some coordinators are concerned about how effective it will be. Though we only have a hand full of people free to do activities like this, fortunately in Brisbane they're all well informed.

When will the final version of your flier be completed?

Anonymous said...

i am the guy who did the graffick design work on the last DLC brochure
i have taken this content ^ and made a single-sided tri fold out of it - appreciate the input David :D

d/load it here: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=X13H83B0

i have made a few minor alterations to the text, and it could probably be tweaked by some other grammarnazi - still not 100%

lets keep kicking this back and forth til its finished though eh?

the original handout was more informative, but a bit tl dr. this new one is more oriented towards "what can I do?" I guess?

Compaq Laptop Parts said...

Censorship laws in Australia are probably amongst the most restricted in the western world.
I was amazed when i found out that if the site was hosted in country they could request you take down certain content but if it was hosted out of country then they could just completely ban the site!
They are two blacklists on that has illegal content and one that has unwanted content.

I actually think its great. Especially for children. It is a great way for protection, due to the fact that children are exposed to anything and everything online, i think this is a great and effective way to prevent this.

Thanks for posting.