How we can win the #nocleanfeed argument

This afternoon, Jason Langenauer posted a well-argued piece with respect to the issues he sees in the national discussion we’re having over the imposition of the Labor government’s Internet filter. Initially, I thought it was a good piece. It’s clear, makes sense, sensible. But Jason is wrong on several points.

First, I should point out that this is my personal view, formed after lengthy discussion with well known anti-filter proponent, Mark Newton; someone whose view and ability to argue a point I respect a great deal. It’s not a view that represents my role as a board member of Electronic Frontiers Australia, though it is a view I’m trying to influence that group with. Given EFA is a democracy, I may get voted down.

No Clean Feed
Image by trib via Flickr

The #nocleanfeed movement is killing itself. But it’s not confusion that’s doing it as Jason and others have said. Anyone with even passing familiarity with the campaign has no confusion whatsoever about what it means. None.

Asserting that we (the #nocleanfeed movement) have somehow dug ourselves an inescapable hole by using that term is false.

Sure, I wouldn’t use #nocleanfeed to try to explain it to someone unfamiliar with the arguments, but that’s Communications 101; you use the language and understandings of your audience to talk to them. You don’t confuse them and fail to engage with them by using your language.

On the other hand, as pointed out to me by Mark, using filter is probably a bad choice. Filters are good. They remove impurities so we can drink clean water and other such important things. At the very least we should use the term “filter” (air-quotes very intentional).

EFA have just launched the Open Internet campaign. As someone who participated in the discussions that brought it about, I strongly support it and the message it sends. But we’re using filter everywhere. Why not call a spade a bloody great bulldozer and use the term censorship? That’s what we’re talking about, after all.

So here’s my view.

We’re smart, and we have all the tools we need to make this a fait accompli. Yet we dance around, playing nice, wording statements carefully and not calling out fools strongly when we see them.

Over two years into this campaign and Senator Stephen Conroy has been utterly unable to successfully frame this issue the way he wants – as a battle against child pornography. Not only do even those casually familiar with the issue know that the filter will fail to stop child porn, but they also know that it’s the wrong fight altogether; child porn is distributed via methods that Internet censorship can’t ever handle, at least with current technology.

We know that the argument that being anti-censorship is ipso facto to be pro child porn is rubbish. Senator Conroy has been called on this often enough that he’s largely given up on it.

We all know that fighting child porn is far better fought by adequately funding the Australian Federal Police and their high-tech crime unit to do the job they know how to do very well. Give them more resources and they can likely do it better again. I’ve met some of them, they’re incredibly dedicated and they believe in what they do.

And this week, the mainstream media and the public got 100 per cent sucked in by the idiots at Anonymous and their ridiculous Project Titstorm. Anyone with half a brain will accept that this action was completely unacceptable. It stopped government delivering important services to the public and did the anti-censorship argument no favors whatsoever by risking re-framing the debate in anti-censorship = pro-porn terms. To that I say an unqualified NO WAY!

On Monday evening on the ABC’s Q&A, Melinda Tankard-Reist managed to unequivocally demonstrate that she had zero understanding of this issue when she sought to conflate Anon’s attacks with child porn. She looked less informed on the Internet and censorship issues than did Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce, who, in a moment of infrequent clarity noted that kiddie porn perpetrators ought to be locked up. Yes, Senator! Though this may be the one and only time I ever agree with you.

The #nocleanfeed movement, its meaning and its ability to creep (hopefully pretty quickly, it’s an election year after all) into the greater public consciousness couldn’t be in a better position. And here’s why.

Those who understand the argument are eloquent. Let’s help others understand by explaining to every person we know just what a damn fool idea the whole thing is and why. It’s not that hard. I’ve written about it enough, and others more eloquent than me have too. Use their words, and mine, to help you.

The government, overall, is in something of an unclear mess over a great deal of its Communications portfolio, not least because there’s at least one Senator, in Kate Lundy, whose public opposition to the Internet censorship policy must be having an effect by now.

Every time Senator Conroy speaks about the issue, he makes less sense and dances around more than last time. He is rapidly losing authority because he can’t argue cogently about the censorship policy. I suspect he just wishes it would go away, but he’s argued so long and hard for it, that he has no face saving way out.

And, should Anon ever decide to play with the big kids rather than confining themselves to the sandpit where they can fling mud pies, they have the potential to be a powerful force. They are certainly smart enough, if misguided. Any blacklist will get leaked almost weekly. The update frequency on Wikileaks (currently not publishing as they try to fund raise – maybe you could donate?) will go through the roof!

The only real problem we face in the #nocleanfeed argument is our good manners. When we’ve couched something badly, we take the beating. When we argue well, we let the opposing forces argue against us and take the beating. It leaves us without a strong position and no driving story. Nobody really knows what we stand for. As Mr Newtown eloquently pointed out to me, “[like the US] everyone knows exactly what the American right wing claims to stand for, but nobody knows jack about what the
lefties represent.” Same with the #nocleanfeed lobby and to a relatively significant extent, the EFA.

We need to switch our approach. Argue hard. Point out the fault in the opposition argument. In public. In strong terms. Cut their legs out from under them.

Jason thinks there’s no strong, consistent framework for couching #nocleanfeed arguments. He’s wrong. Here it is, and it’s so simple your Luddite family members can understand:

  • there’s no serious Internet content problem to solve – you just can’t inadvertently stumble on RC or child porn on the Internet
  • even if it was, nobody wants the government to solve it – if they did, free filtering software would be incredibly popular
  • even if they did, this solution won’t work – we’ve seen the trial results and the extensive analysis which points out the flaws
  • even if it did, it’s too expensive, unreliable, performance-sapping,
    scope-creeping
    – ouch, ouch, ouch and no way
  • even if it was perfect, it’ll be administered by governments ill-equipped to do so – we’ve seen several policy and program stumbles lately, do we want one over this?
  • even if it was administered perfectly, the blacklist will leak – and leak, and leak, and leak, giving infinite publicity to exactly the content the government wants to suppress (you’ve heard of the Streisand Effect, right?)
  • there is no possibility that the blacklist won’t leak – it already has and it will again

There’s your framework. Work those arguments. Expand them. Point out the risks of Nanny Stating. The disconnect between the government and the electorate.

Sounds like a strong movement with a great argument to present to me.

9 Replies to “How we can win the #nocleanfeed argument”

  1. A lot of good points, but oh were it that simple;

    there’s no serious Internet content problem to solve – you just can’t inadvertently stumble on RC or child porn on the Internet

    Rebuttal: “There are millions of perverts on the Internet stealing children constantly, child porn is an $Xb industry annually”

    even if it was, nobody wants the government to solve it – if they did, free filtering software would be incredibly popular

    Rebuttal: “The reason software wasn’t popular is because it’s too hard to install”

    even if they did, this solution won’t work – we’ve seen the trial results and the extensive analysis which points out the flaws

    Rebuttal: “100% accuracy, 1/70th of the blink of an eye” – cognitive reframing of success to mean technical feasibility, not proof of good policy

    even if it did, it’s too expensive, unreliable, performance-sapping,
    scope-creeping – ouch, ouch, ouch and no way

    Rebuttal: “We pinky promise”

    even if it was perfect, it’ll be administered by governments ill-equipped to do so – we’ve seen several policy and program stumbles lately, do we want one over this?

    Rebuttal: “If not the government, who? The ISPs haven’t done anything off their own bat despite the obvious obligation of ISPs to police the Internet. If the government stops just one paedophile it was worth it.”

    even if it was administered perfectly, the blacklist will leak – and leak, and leak, and leak, giving infinite publicity to exactly the content the government wants to suppress (you’ve heard of the Streisand Effect, right?)

    Rebuttal: “That’s not the fault of the government, it’s the fault of the unspeakable perverts who leak it.”

    All this is important stuff Stephen, you’ve reiterated some of the most important parts of the campaign, but it unfortunately doesn’t represent a panacea, there’s refuting that gets done on even these succinct messages that don’t leave much room for misinterpretation. We’ll keep fighting, and shift public opinion with a combination of messages that suit different audiences – by far the most salient part of your post.

  2. Geordie, you’re right, there’s always counters. That’s why we need to, as I said, “There’s your framework. Work those arguments. Expand them.”

    It’s a start.

    While our words are different, I don’t hink my position is measurably different from yours posted today.

  3. IMO you have to make this political and fast. The facts (and they are all good points you make) will not be heard. Most people are not even aware of the ISSUE and don’t know what’s happening. Play the man not the ball. Make him (Conroy) look stupid. Try to get blogs up fast and get some mention in the press – not easy but it can be done. Time is running out fast and you don’t have time for logic to get a complex (more than 2 syllable) message across. Simple sharp points, push Cencorship as you say NOT filters for god’s sake. It’s political, we need to play it that way. That is the only thing that hurt’s a politician. Link it into other fiasco’s eg Garrett, funding woes – waste of money for reasons stated above, state which countries censor the net (and the ones that don’t) and ask do we want to join iran, china etc etc. Pick up examples of non sexual but instead political filtering – inevitability of this – who watches the watchers. I am sure you get the idea. Keep the main sites (eg EFA very accurate and informative but hype stuff up on the blogs. That way you can fall back on EFA type sites as necessary but still get the hits on hyped up (within reason) blogs. Play almost as dirty as your enemy, and they play very dirty.

    Somehow get this to go viral. Maybe hit the youth sector as they might take it up in mass – see current discontent with Rudd (well more than before anyway), see backlash on climatechange even amoingst youth sector. A few well connected youth leaders could get a whole school in on the act and spread it on FB etc. Tap into it and make it trendy. Wear a black ribbon day (in real life & online) perhaps – you’d get that on the news probably if the EFA pumped it. Rudd would be terrified about losing more of the youth vote – it would hurt. Brainstorm it. Good luck!

    My 2 cents.

  4. Rebuttal: “There are millions of perverts on the Internet stealing children constantly, child porn is an $Xb industry annually”

    I like this one, if it really was such a big business, governments would be falling over themselves to give it tax breaks and investment incentives. Hell Channel 7 is only worth 1.3b and look what they got in return for a ski weekend.

  5. I like where you’re going with this and agree with @StatisHater as well. The issue simply isn’t going public and when it does, our responses aren’t heard. Conroy has his little soundbites of “Protect the children”, “stop child porn”, and so forth. While wrong, they’re understandable and emotive. Our soundbite is “no it doesn’t”, it makes us just sound like petulant children.

    We need to politicise it, we need it to appear in the mass media, and we need our message to be clear and strong. I agree with Mark, we lend credence to them when we use the word filter, it’s not a filter, it’s censorship. We need to attack them on the issues, call them out when they’re wrong, call them out when they’re stupid, call them out when they lie.

    How we get this to happen I don’t know, but when it is in the media we need to have a strong succinct message.

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