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

glog does filtering « Previous | |Next »
December 22, 2008

Stephen Conroy put his name to a curiously disconnected entry at the Digital Economy Blog today. The entries over the past few days suggest that the blog is being written by a group of people with different objectives and different understandings about what a blog is. Or someone who mostly has their mind on other things.

Friday came an entry headed Developing Australia's Digital Skills which started with a gesture at engagement:

Yes, we know you want to talk about filtering and we will be posting about it on the meantime, we wanted to talk about digital skills

Commenters took a dim view of Sunday's post, which appears to be a recycled media release.

Then today's post, the much anticipated chance to discuss mandatory filtering, does a series of odd things.

For one thing, it was posted three days before Christmas when there are few people around to respond, which queers the claim that "the Government is experimenting with a new form of consultation and a new level of openness in this medium." The header, Civil and Confident Society Online won't be attracting a lot of people wanting to talk about mandatory filtering either.

It's framed as part of an effort to increase public and business confidence in the internet in the interests of supporting a digital economy, as if they're trying to turn it into something like a sanitised mall experience. It would be difficult to design a less grounded understanding of reality. eBay's doing just fine amid the anarchy and child porn. Did they even ask airlines and travel agents how well online purchases are going?

Conroy says he's following discussions at Whirlpool, GetUp and the nocleanfeed Twitterverse, which must be keeping him up into the wee small hours. Whirlpool's up to its 18th installment with no signs of slowing down. Most Whirlpoolians appear to have given up on Conroy's blog, which isn't surprising. Is there really any point when "The Government takes the issue of cyber-safety extremely seriously and welcomes public debate about how we can achieve our goal of protecting children from harmful internet content" pretty much sums up where this is going.

Ditto for Conroy's responses to comments. Commenter Klaw81 responded to a bunch of the responses with some of the more obvious objections, but if the attitude of the whole thing is any indication, it's a waste of pixels.

If it gets through the Senate, I hope there's a bunch of much smarter people than me feverishly working away at some subversive software.

But wait, there's more:

Loads more comments have been posted, and more are still coming through. Today we get a so long and thanks for all the fish message with a Tannerish flavour:

All in all, we appreciate everyone who took time to engage with this first attempt at blogging by the Australian Government and we will reflect in the new year on the many lessons we have learned, in the hope that we can ensure that future online engagement efforts are more productive for everyone. Something that we have realised is that there are no established community norms about how people respond online to government and a lot of the nuances about how government functions are not transparent. This possibly led to some frustration in how we set up the blog, how we responded and what action is taken in response to the many comments we received. Hopefully, when the Government blogs again, we can work together in building up norms and improving the transparency.

Individual discussion spaces have unique community norms. It's good to see that somebody realises that and that a government blog, like any other, needs to establish its own. Norms take time to develop.

Kim over at LP links to Axel Bruns' thoughts at Gatewatching (as I should have done, Axel being an authority and all).

By attracting a sizeable number of commenters (and presumably an even larger number of lurkers) right off the bat - by virtue of its being an official government blog - the DBCDE blog never had a chance to move through the community phase in which those social structures establish themselves that are so crucial to the effective functioning of communities as communities.
So, quite apart from the filter controversy, what’s (necessarily) missing and what’s thus making the DBCDE blog a somewhat unwieldy beast at this point is a community with a sense of purpose and direction. An established community can be relied upon to do a good deal of self-policing - ensuring that comments remain on-topic, that participants exercise a modicum of civility, and that newcomers are effectively socialised into the established environment. But such communities are best grown organically, from a relatively small group of initial participants, as is evident in Australia’s best-known political blogs

While all of that is true, there's always the chance that you'll end up accidentally fostering an Andrew Bolt type community. Trevor Cook calls the ABC's Unleashed a ghetto, which is a fair call most of the time.

Still, there's no denying the glog would have stood a much better chance at establishing nice community vibes if it hadn't been launched with the filtering business hanging over its head. That was always begging for bedlam. To make matters worse on that score, there's more bad news for Conroy in the media today. We can also anticipate a bit more of this sort of thing from regional areas struggling with dial-up.

Interesting timing, shutting down the glog the day live trials start. What was that about transparency again?

| Posted by Lyn at 2:52 PM | | Comments (26)


I hope you all have have a very Merry Christmas and are blessed with wonderous opinions in the coming year.


I was interested and a little surprised to see that in a piece in the Sydney Mourning (sic) Herald, Alex Hawke expressed opposition to internet filtering":

Alex Hawke is one of the few fresh faces in an old [Federal parliamentary Liberal] band fallen on hard times.

Hawke is one of the young turks of the NSW Liberal right. He's been relatively quiet, finding his feet. As he gets into his stride for next year, however, he says one priority will be to try to ensure the Coalition opposes the Government's plan for a broad internet filter, which is aimed at fighting child pornography. Hawke see this as part of a wider battle in the years to come between big- and small-government proponents.

I had not realised that the Liberal right is so libertarian and assumed - wrongly it seems - that they would be fiercely in favour of "protecting working families".

(1) Thanks for keeping an eye on this... it's a huge volume to read.

(2) You linked "Subversive software" to TOR. That made me chuckle, as TOR was initially developed, and I believe may be still funded, by the US mil.

(3) Conroy HAD to raise his censorship scheme relatively soon after the glog started lest he be accused of avoidance.

(4) "group of people with different objectives and different understandings about what a blog is"
That's natural, because (a) it's not really a blog (b) there are two sorts of people "producing" the glog: those who really want openness (including a couple of politicians), and the rest of the politicians who'd rather operate either behind closed doors or with tame journos. I'd LOVE to be a fly on the wall when pollies and those staffers committed to openness are discussing the glog.

I quickly read the post on digital skills and came away with the impression that they---its a Department blog----did not have much idea about what working and living in a digital economy actually means. Their readers are way ahead of them in seeing what is happening.

So, according to the post attributed to Conroy, the point of compulsory internet filtering is to nuture confidence in a digital civil society:

To achieve our goal of maximising the participation of Australian businesses and individuals in the digital economy, it is important that the Government and industry collaborate to ensure that people are as confident to interact and engage via the internet as they are offline. Consumers with digital confidence will increasingly find information online, communicate and interact via the internet and shop online. Businesses that have digital confidence will expand their online service offerings.

What a load of nonsense.

Becoming confident requires digital skills, participation, the capacity to engage in critical thinking and thinking for oneself. Critical thinking is not even mentioned even though the comments to mandatory filtering show a high level of critical thinking from readers ---strong enough for the Department to judge that it needs to respond to criticism in a reasonable way.

the Liberal Right is an amalgam of libertarians and family conservatives. So it is no surprise the libertarian strand is surfacing to fight Conroy's mandatory internet filtering. It's taken them a while though.

Most of the debate about broadband+telecommunications etc is about technology eg:

* copper telephone lines (ADSL and VDSL)
* wireless systems (mobiles, WiMax, satellite)
* hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) cable
* fibre systems (including FTTN)

Very little is about digital literacy. Yet the offical reason that PC based filters don't work--- only about two per cent of households with dependent children are using a filter-- is that many parents do not have the technical skills or knowledge to install and manage PC-level filters.

So Conroy's solution is technology--- ISP-level filtering could provide important protection for those families with limited technical expertise--rather than programs to help parents acquire digitial skills.

Something reported via Ars Technica: about our powerful ally across the Pacific..
Still hope for the FCCs smit-free broadband plan.

So, the two most important nations to us either have, or probably WILL have, tightly controlled broadband. Synchrony? Maybe.

It's also interesting to note that comments have been cherry picked. Mine went into moderation at about 5 PM, and hasn't appeared yet while others have. Nice open discourse there.

unlike cultural workers bureaucrats go home from the office at 5pm. Maybe tomorrow morning after 9am?

That's what I thought until I saw the comment count increase. I guess there might be a valid reason for it.

I see that the Department's glog makes no mention of this report in the mandatory filter post. It appears that cleanfeed Conroy is not willing to engage in an open debate based on informed reports.

write a comment asking what happened to your previous post and quote what you wrote.

Ars technica is an interesting and informative online site. Thanks for the link.

Just read a report in Sydney Herald on the perverse movement from Conroy to continue this nonsense, in spite of all the bad publicity and expert opinion against it.
"Fatal flaws in website censorship plan, says report" (SMH, 23/12), is by Asher Moses.
It highlights an unreleased report comissioned back in the time of Howard, prepared by a number of experts including Bjorn Langfeldt. He commented that he felt the report had not been released because, "its conclusions were too damaging".He seemed to indicate that the focus of the government was too narrow. Moses continues:

"The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, despite... promises before Labor was elected...has said the first tier of the policy will be compulsory for all. This would block all illegal and inappropriate material, as determined in part by a secret blacklist administered by the Australian Communications andMedia authority".

I can get "illegal", but "inappropriate? What does that mean?

We are really back to the waffly Kafka-esque world of deliberately obscure language, as adminstered recently by the likes of Kevin Andrews when he was involved with the Haneef Affair, or Ruddock when he was doing his immigration portfolio.
Conroy refused to say why the report was being withheld but persisted that the government was pursuing, according to Asher's article. an "evidence based" approach.
How has such an irresponsible, delusional megalomaniac ever been appointed to such a high position in the affairs of this nation?

I think people will have to get used to some level of compulsory filtering, especially of P2P traffic.

Game developer Crytek estimated that for every legally bought copy of their game 'Crysis' there existed 250 illegal copies. Numbers like that are unsustainable when the foundation stone of capitalism is personal property rights. If companies can't make money off their work then they wont invest.

Eventually illegal P2P filesharing simply has to be put to death. As the internet gets bigger and more money can be made from it, that death will come closer, because the interests get more powerful.

The interesting thing for mine about the SMH piece is the claim that it's about fighting child pornography. That's rot. Child porn doesn't sit around on web pages where it's easily found, it's passed around through P2P networks. Conroy knows that, and he also knows there's no such thing as a P2P filter yet. For the opposition the secret blacklist must be scary. As Klaw81 said in comments, in future either this govt or another one in the future could block whatever they want and nobody would know.

1. I was thinking of you the whole time.
2. Tor makes me laugh too. The site is so earnest about itself but it's widely understood as quite naughty.
3. From day 1 it was the only thing people wanted to talk about, yet they left it until the holiday period.
4. Maybe incorrectly, I think of them as the Tanner and Conroy camps. It's pretty obvious in reading the blogs, which suggests they really don't know what they're talking about.

Yes, the posts reveal a cluelessness that commenters clearly recognise. They say it's about increasing confidence, then go out of their way to create the impression that the whole internet is an orgy of deviance of every imaginable kind.

The idea that you can prepare people for online dealings with some kind of static user manual is a joke. People learn by jumping in then learning from others - one of the reasons it gets called social media. You can understand why control freaks find it all a bit alarming.

So what's wrong then with an opt-out system for parents who do have the skills? They're still talking about burdening the rest of us to save a handful of people. It's like having a universal speed limit of 40 to protect blind pedestrians.

If you watch for a while you notice that comments come through in batches. Moderation is taking anything up to about 12 hours. I'm assuming they're getting truckloads of useless or abusive comments, but Nan is probably right about office hours as well. Although some comments did get through on Sunday. It's not ideal for conversation, but can't be helped.

The big complaint about IT types is that they are so full of technical jargon that they are incoherent. I would have expected that a politician or his ghost writer was always coherent and understandable. Not that author.

You know that the proportion of children in the Australian population has halved since the 1960s.
In the 1960s 50% of population under 14 years.
Today 24% of population aged 0 to 14 years.
So this is more about control than protection.

Your average medium to high internet user is a tertiary educated, white collar male over 30. That's an instant problem for Conroy - he's not talking to idiots. Simply repeating mantras - working families, child porn etc doesn't work. On top of that, they're dealing with geeks, which is worse. Half of them are concerned about things like what 'inappropriate' means and half point out the technical problems. Worse, in public forums they're informing others as well.

There are two schools of thought on questions like those. One argues IP rights will shut down P2P eventually, the other argues that it's too late. We are seeing content providers starting to adjust, usually refering to things like the Radiohead experiment and the hacker culture which invented BitTorrent. On the other hand, those who can't or won't adjust are looking at litigating against ISPs because nothing else has worked so far. Try to imagine Crytek going after Telstra BigPond.

The most intelligent response from content makers and software developers so far has been to release a degraded or limited version free, and charge for the full, brilliant version. It's a successful model which also builds brand loyalty.

The other thing to remember about P2P is that we're not just talking kiddie porn and piracy, but email as well. We've already seen schools emailing school results. What if doctors start emailing test results? What would be the impact on business using MSN with software like Groove to develop IP-sensitive work? Nightmare.

I don't get the technical jargon either, but the jargon coming from commenters is way more mystifying than anything coming from the glog authors. That's no guarantee of expertise of course, but it looks pretty convincing to me.

I don't think the number of kids in the population is a useful number to use, particularly when Conroy has zoomed in on kids with parents who don't know how to install software.

When you take Conroy's own arguments on board, ISP level filtering is being proposed to protect children with
a) unsupervised access to the internet
b) parents who can't install software
c) want to look at pornography
d) don't know how to get around filtering and
e) don't know anyone who can tell them how to get around filtering.

That's way less than the total number of kids.

It's worse when you think about the kiddie porn argument, because ISP level filtering does nothing to prevent sickos from abusing kids and swapping the photos with their sicko friends.

Darn right child protection is being used as a covering excuse for something else.

I've posted several times, commented on govt blogs, and emailed Labor politicians. I keep getting versions of the the same media release in response, with a couple of exceptions. Do they really hear us or is it just PR at the moment?

That's a common complaint Kevin. You might get more joy out of getting in touch with members of the opposition or the greens.

OK I am now about to reinforce the view that I am anal and statistics mad. The comment posted at 8:57 appeared at 13:57. It took the gubbermint 5 hours to moderate 180 posts. Comments were posted in batches of up to 5 continuously over that period.

What does this bode for the internet filter?

You're a handy person to have around with observations like that.

Five hours, 180 posts, can you begin to imagine how much they're dealing with that can't be posted? I feel kinda sorry for them.

I really did think all this nonsense would go away. sigh.

I have yet to see any evidence that any child has been harmed by the use of the internet. I am sure some children who were already neglected and screwed up have accessed stuff on the net that hasn't made them better.

I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary that child porn is (with some small number of exceptions) produced by parents or those who have children in their care - generally legal care. The nature of child abuse, and particularly sexual abuse, has not changed much.

Parents and carers or trusted people, not random wandering strangers-monsters, abuse kids. Now they take digital photos and films and distribute it. What has changed is that more people have access to the images. In a practical sense this does not make any bigger impact on the child that is abused.

I haven't looked but I would challenge anyone to find a "website" containing "real" child porn.(unfortunately a naked picture of anyone under 18 can be considered child porn - I doubt anyone really considers a picture of a 17 year old "child porn" but I might be wrong)

I can understand pandering to Senator Field, after all it's a long tradition finessed by Harridine, but the disturbing thing is that it seems to have gone beyond a political fix or compromise and it does appear that Conroy and the government do not have a clue about the net or child abuse. No wonder Telstra frightens them.

its a moral panic being used by right wing politicians in favour of a nanny state and stirred by the conservative media in favour of more state regulation to protect families.