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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Conroy has company « Previous | |Next »
December 29, 2008

The Australian Minister Against Communications is not on his own in seeking to control what can and can't be done with the internet. The US has been toying with the idea for a while, and the UK is scouting around for an ISP-level solution that won't result in humiliation. It's hardly surprising that some would begin to suspect some kind of multi-government conspiracy against the people when the 'saving the kiddies' argument is so flawed.

Could the think of the children line simply be a smokescreen for repression of free speech? After all, I’m not exactly seeing protesters calling for repressive internet censorship anywhere in the world at the moment.

Could it be a play by big media to take back control of news gathering, or the movie and music industry to kill the internet so as to kill piracy (notably Burnham throws piracy into the mix).

And why left wing Governments? And more than one of them….at the same time, out of the blue.

A left wing conspiracy to kill the internet?

I know, far fetched, and a little loopy on the suggestion side, but we’re not getting the whole picture here, and something more than kiddies is driving this.

Comments sensibly point out that there's nothing left wing about it. Also in comments, Clarencegirl argues it's in the interests of corporate profits, which makes more sense:

This push to censor the Internet is nothing more than business wanting a bigger share of hyperspace or, more accurately, the profits that can flow from creating software/systems which are required to use the world wide web.

Censorship/security via filtering is a growing commercial opportunity that certain big IT companies are eager to get a piece of and, many are already actively lobbying for or privately supporting the government plans to legislate mandatory ISP-level filtering.

Mandatory filtering is also being supported by those companies which feel that sales and royalties are being lost due to file sharing.

A brief Google will bring up pages of IT companies selling programs capable of limiting what can be viewed or downloaded and many are apparently quite happy to encourage calls from religious and community groups to 'protect' children from the evil Net.

It's a fair argument, and there are others to play with as well.

Common knowledge has it that the Vietnam war would have gone altogether more splendidly if the ugly bits weren't broadcast into civilian living rooms every night. Embedding media with the good guys in Iraq should have solved this problem, but now you've got odd bits of citizenry describing civilian casualties to one another on the internet. It's hard to convince people everything's under control when you've got people on the ground in Mumbai tweeting and blogging contradictions to your official pronouncements about how fantastically well you handle your duty to protect citizens in such circumstances. And now Israel's idea of reasonable force is escaping its proper narrative confines.

Add to that the citizenry's newfound ability to organise dissent (what's the point of having a monopoly on violence if they won't leave their houses and mob in the streets?) and clearly something has to be done.

For people already doing the digital thing a digital economy is naturally emerging in its own chaotic way, with some following whatever is fashionable at the moment and others sticking with what works. But what makes anyone think this kind of thing is what Conroy has in mind when he uses the words digital economy? It's way more likely that he's talking about Microsoft's and Disney's and Warner Bros' version, which is altogether different.

When it comes to controlling the internet, the corporates and government both have an interest in McDonaldising it. Their chances don't appear to be all that good from a geekish point of view, which will probably burrow its way around whatever ISP nick nackery they come up with. But where the broader citizenry whose internet use is currently limited to banking, email and maybe Facebook is concerned, the internet must become an orderly reproduction of the offline status quo.

Conspiracy theory? Maybe. But maybe not.

| Posted by Lyn at 8:53 AM | | Comments (17)
Comments

Comments

The production of distributed information content and the ability for small collectives to act politically was hailed as a major social impact of the net.

But for every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Within densely populated areas, wireless mesh can bypass government/business control, and if someone has the $$ for a satellite or microwave link to other meshes (something that will doubtless get cheaper over time), then a worldwide mesh might come about.

I wonder if the "save the kiddies" misdirectors even know about the use of meshes.

Whilst I oppose the system being proposed for Australia, the response I received from the department after emailing the Minister indicated that the system they're considering is modelled on what the UK implemented in 2004 - Cleanfeed. Yes, the argument put forward by the Minister is laughable, and I hadn't considered what Clarencegirl is suggesting, but I don't subscribe to the general consensus among idiots that this is another step Australia is taking towards "Chinafication", or that it's some left-wing conspiracy.

Dave,

Yes, I remember all that stuff about the Zapatistas and mobile phones bringing about the end of corruption in the Philippines being applauded for about five minutes before the realists stepped in and broke up the party.

I've seen various comments about satellite and dishes around the place, but didn't realise wireless meshes would also get around it.

Would it be all that surprising if they didn't know about these things?

Vacuous,

There are some truly silly knee jerk reactions around the place, but you can't blame people for responding that way when the excuse for filtering is equally silly. Inevitably people will speculate on the real reason and mostly come up with the wrong one.

Clarencegirl's explanation strikes me as a good one.

Lyn: "Clarencegirl's explanation strikes me as a good one."

Agreed. Chatter between IT professionals about current spare computing power within Telstra makes me want to look at (any) payment models the government has for ISPs that implement the filter.

The blocking of wikipedia in the UK should be highlighted to those who don't object to Conroy's plans. Just "think of the children" trying to do their school projects!

re: blaming people for reacting the way they do - point taken. When people are treated like imbeciles, they are likely to respond in kind.

Dave,
There are plenty of similar arguments to your school projects one which need to be made. Are our children destined to ignorance on the many species of tit? Especially variously breasted ones. What about first time mums looking for info on breast feeding, genuine research into the sex lives of, oh I dunno, sea horses? Public interest info on any number of issues. And how the hell are the tabloid media going to survive if their more salacious rubbish gets filtered?

Yes, Lyn. Certainly young pupils need to be alighted upon the rare sight of a fine pair of tits.
Whatever else we disagree on, I'd certainly accept the idea that Conroy is bullsh-tting and when politicians lie, we know there can be no good in it for society.
If we haven't learn't that, we were asleep for almost the entire duration of the Howard years.

Lyn,
why cannot the censorship firewell of Clean feed Conroy to make the internet safe be driven by dual concerns ---the conservative backlash against 1960s self-expressive freedom re bodies + sexuality, and the desire to help ensure profits for the entertainment industry via IP?

Vacuous,
this article by Frank Fisher in The Guardian is interesting re the UK
culture secretary Andy Burnham's attack on the "dangerous" internet.

.... set alongside Labour's existing and proposed limits on free speech online, it signals potentially worrying extensions to these restrictions and, perhaps more significantly, a disturbing attitude that sees censorship as entirely natural and necessary. Burnham talks of "harmful" content – content, harmful? How? Amid all his talk of websites imposing age ratings he also plainly states that "There is content that should just not be available to be viewed".Not by kids you'll note, just a big flat no! This isn't a guy in the pub talking, this is a government minister who says he knows what people should and shouldn't be allowed to read and see.

Cleanfeed Conroy is similar. Free speech online is seen as dangerous.

Gary,
If we assume Conroy has no idea of the extent of the WWW, let alone the whole internet, he might think his blacklist and filters can turn the net into a Stepford Wives kind of paradise. He would have to be monumentally ignorant though.

If we assume that Conroy has middling understanding, which seems fairer, he knows that at best he can create the appearance of cleaning up the net among those who don't know any better.

Given the practicalities involved there's pretty much consensus among people way smarter than me that the clean feed is not about child protection or keeping us tasteful.

Also, an awful lot of what the entertainment industries churn out is pretty stomach churning, so those two goals would be contradictory.

Lyn,
Conroy would have a middling understanding of the internet. He has a department and ministerial staffers to advise him.

The censorship crowd have always accepted Hollywood violence at the cinema and on TV--its naked bodies and sex that send them into a frenzy. Sex outside marriage is dirty and sinful. Virginity is sacred.

Nan
Conroy claims on the recently closed department blog that BitTorrent filtering is now feasible:

Technology is improving all the time. Technology that filters peer-to-peer and BitTorrent traffic does exist and it is anticipated that the effectiveness of this will be tested in the live pilot trial.

This last minute extension to their policy shows the bad advice, or giving the Minister what he wants to hear. Labor's policy is about censorship of what is deemed to be "unwanted" material --- and it is currently still the naïve vision of a Net Nanny mandatory filter on the whole Internet in response to a moral panic.

Nan,
I've never understood that. How come violence is ok but sex is not?

How come we're having all this kerfuffle over children being exposed to pornography, but there's no equivalent response to domestic violence? Why is Conroy not advocating webcams in every household to make sure kids aren't being beaten?

Lyn,
maybe Peter's 'moral panic' creates the differences between two. The sociologist Stanley Cohen comments that:

Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people.

Moral panics are usually expressed as expressions of outrage rather than unadulterated fear and framed in terms of a dominant morality threatened by the activities of a stereotyped group.

Sexual violence in the home--kids being abused and beaten--- is found within the dominant group.

I concur. Internet porn is a long running moral panic for those concerned with the breakdown of social order, who defend family value and respectability and have a morbid interest in sex and vice.

In S.Poynting, and G.Morgan, (eds) 'Outrageous! Moral Panics in Australia', (ACYS Publishing, Hobart) it is held that:

The concept of ‘moral panic’ refers to a situation where the definition of deviance is applied to the behaviour of a social group, there is hostility towards that group and a level of consensus over the negative deviant definition, and there is a disproportionate and punitive response, usually by the criminal justice system By their nature, moral panics also tend to be volatile and fuelled by media and political interest.

It is about social regulation and control. What we have is a conservative authoritarian nostalgia for the "golden age of Victorian values" behind the white picket suburban fence.

The conservative's language of authoritarian nostalgia is designed to demonize and marginalize the folk devils (purveyors of internet pornography and child abuse) and to discipline the rest of us.

Moral panics serve to prop up the distribution of power status quo, but they also serve to obscure unsettling change in some area that's not always directly associated with the object of panic.

You could speculate on where that change is happening, but it's not always obvious. Some possible contenders: the growing relevance of all things digital, kids' seemingly natural affinity with that, the corresponding loss of parental authority, the growing presence of ordinariness in all things image (Big Brother to Corey Worthington on YouTube).

conservatism as a philosophy is about maintaining the status quo, keeping the power structure intact. They desire and value blind obedience to the power structure, are scared of the new, and are on the lookout for any threat to the power structure.

The internet is a threat of the highest order. There is no space for dissenters in their world view since free thinking undermines their values to the core.