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Monday, 18 January 2010 05:33

Why the anti-filter campaign is failing


The anti- internet filtering campaign has been hijacked by zealots and ideology-driven windbags and has consistently failed to articulate to moderate Australians what we stand to lose if the policy proceeds.

And there is nothing being put forward by the old-school libertarian campaign crowd that has been able to undo the damage being done by a hardcore set of misguided geek activists.

There is nothing like the internet filter debate to bring out the worst in people. And so it has been with the reaction to my last column chiding internet ferals.

Yes, the term 'internet ferals' is inflammatory and unnecessary. You're right. You got me there. But the debate within the tech community has been so counterproductive, and so full of disinformation and rubbish, I simply could not help myself.

Forgive me, please.

Nah, I don't mean that. There is an element of the anti-filter crowd that has been so damaging to the broader, mainstream campaign that they need to be called out. If you don't like the term internet ferals, think of yourselves as idiots. You know who you are.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts about the campaign, which is not going well.

There are some real problems. Not least that this noisy minority is killing any chance of bringing onboard the mass of reasonably-minded, moderate, everyday Australian voters that are needed to effectively influence the process.

And that makes it difficult for the Opposition senators who are uncomfortable with the filter plan. It makes it more difficult for them to get vocal, let alone try and bring their colleagues along with them.

For the benefit of the noisy minority: It helps to be positive. It is more effective to be FOR something, rather than simply AGAINST something else.

Much better to argue the very real merits of the existing open regime for the internet - to put forward the very reasonable case that the existing environment has served us well. It is much more productive to point out what we are putting at risk by considering even this mild set of internet censorship plans.

Secondly, abuse does not help. Whether the abuse is aimed at Stephen Conroy, his staff, Kevin Rudd, journalists, or others in an electronic forum who might wonder aloud whether there should be limits to freedom of expression, abuse does nothing except distract potential supporters from the reasonable arguments that the anti-filter campaign has at its disposal.

Thirdly, the disinformation and hyperbole being put forward by the extreme elements of the debate are a gross distortion to the point of being fundamentally dishonest. Start campaigning against the scheme that is being introduced rather campaigning against a more sinister made-up version of it. Dishonesty does not impress people.

Stop whining. And stop the obsession with Stephen Conroy as being some kind of Dark Rider in league with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The filter started as ALP policy (if poorly articulated) and has been a policy of this Government.

The policy started life in a kind of game of one-upmanship with the then Coalition government, which saw votes in cleaning up the internet and which had a backbench full of filter agitators. Then Communications Minister Helen Coonan was saddled with that particularly turd sandwich, and managed to hose it down as best she could.

Conroy inherited this policy. Who knows what he actually feels about it, and who cares? Cabinet wants it done and the Government could not have been clearer about its intentions.

Start talking to people who can actually influence the process. And at this point, that is the Liberal Party. The Greens have already said they will vote against filter. Which means the government needs the Opposition to vote with it to get the filter passed in the Senate.

There are a many Opposition senators who are uncomfortable with the very notion of an internet filter. But there are many who are supportive of it. And you do the moderates no favours by seeding the debate with intentionally misinformed vitriol.

Finally, the No Clean Feed slogan is completely ridiculous and counterproductive. Not exactly the kind of message that is likely to capture the imagination of millions of time-poor mum's and dad's who already feel uncomfortable with the internet. While the Electronic Frontiers Australia organisation is now doing something about this, it is very late in the game.

To paraphrase my colleague David Heath, the campaign would do itself a favour if it stopped presenting itself as outraged geeks and started to instead behave like informed and reasonable voters.

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