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.
WILL IT WORK?
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.
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