Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Conroy's Con - the new grass-roots campaign against the Government's mandatory internet filter

On Monday 21 December 2009, I attended the Brisbane Stop Internet Censorship Public Meeting. The meeting was organised by Nicholas Perkins and had a fantastic turnout - close to 90 people! There is clearly a lot of interest around this issue.

The meeting was focused on what we can do to get the message out about Conroy's mandatory filter and the negative impacts it will have. Mainly, that the filter will NOT stop child pornography or protect children from the dangers that lurk online (including online predators and cyber bullying) but it DOES pose a serious risk of political censorship.

It was generally agreed that at present, we are losing the great internet filter battle. Conroy has used strong rhetoric that casts anyone who opposes the filter into the role of child pornographer (or at least, supporter of child pornography). Further, we are not aided by our own "geekiness" - as tech-savvy Twitteratti, we do not appeal to mainstream Australia who may not know what a "feed" is, let alone the significance of the "clean feed" proposal.

So what can we do?

The answer is a lot. But we need to do it fast, and we need to apply a lot of pressure consistently. We need to reach both the pollies and the general Australian public, and we need to turn this debate around soon or the battle is lost for good.

The Stop Internet Censorship meeting had two speakers, each of whom presented compelling options for moving forward. Each speaker took a completely different approach, but I believe that both approaches can be effective and if we apply them together, even more so.

Nicolas Suzor from Electronic Frontiers Australia spoke first and outlined the importance of keeping this debate rational. He argued that we shouldn't get sidetracked on issues of speed. The most important issues relate to censorship and control, and the fact that the RC list has a far wider ambit than child porn. Nic stated that the most effective thing we can do in terms of reaching the politicians is letter-writing. Many MPs do not really have a clear idea of what this debate is about. We should inform them and make our case. Write, write write! EFA has provided a template on their website, if you are not sure what to write.

Nic also highlighted the Great Australian Internet Blackout, an online protest that runs from 25th - 29th January, in which you can blackout your online profile picture and/or website to protest against the filter. Additionally, Michael Meloni of Somebody Think of the Children has developed a website called The Gift of Censorship, which allows you to leave a short (500 characters or less) message for Stephen Conroy. For every 1000 messages sent, Michael will send a Christmas stocking of coal to the Senator.

Finally, Australia Day is the national day of action for this debate. EFA are asking you to spread the word about what the filter really means for Australians, by bringing it up at your Australia Day Party.

The next speaker was Cameron Reilly, who spoke about the propaganda techniques that Conroy has used to swing the debate his way. Sometimes, you need to fight fire with fire, and in addition to the more reasoned approaches above, we may need to develop our own propaganda techniques. We need to bring this issue to the masses.

Andrew Bartlett suggested "Conroy's Con" as our slogan. More meetings will follow to discuss what techniques we can employ to show mainstream Australia that this filter is not what Conroy promises. Importantly, we need Mums and Dads, family groups and church groups on our side.

To find out more about the next meeting, visit

Videos of the December meeting have been posted on YouTube.
You can see Nicholas Perkins speaking here
Nic Suzor is here
Cameron Reilly is here and here
and the public debate is here, here and here

You can also see the Twitter feed from the night by searching for #sicbne

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