The Internet filtering ‘debate’ is pretty much dead in the water.

However with the announcement of the mandatory ISP-level internet filter proceeding, the interwebs nearly melted down. Australians on Twitter and Facebook began decrying the further erosion of our civil liberties. But just as quickly began an erroneous debate about what to name the ‘hash tag’ for online censorship resistance. Here to it illustrates just how fragmented the debate is – further eroded by some labelling it a debate about a ‘brand’.

All of the fury being demonstrated on Facebook, blogs and Twitter is well and truly missing the mark.  (I haven’t seen any sustained discussion of the announcement on places like MySpace, Orkut or Bebo) It’s no longer about Conroy. It’s entirely about the response; as they say “the ball’s in your court”. Way back in April this year I had predicted that Senator Conroy (VIC), the one that helped Fielding enter the Senate, would get his way and a mandatory net filter would be introduced.  It may seem like a success prediction but anyone could have guessed the outcome.

Already outrageous claims have been made about how some Labor MPs will lose their seats at the next election, which of course is completely ignorant of the realities of electoral politics. Indeed various commentators have noted that the policy won’t result in any noticeable effect on Labor’s primary vote nationally.

The debate, if it is to be resurrected, must now be centred and focussed on the response.

To effectively respond it requires a coordinated, concerted and sustained approach; with a plan for real political action. I don’t mean more protests and demonstrations. And I don’t mean sending more protest messages to Kevin Rudd’s Twitter account. At the time I of writig this piece, I had counted four (4) websites [see bottom of post for list – if there are ones not listed leave a comment letting us know] each campaigning against Senator Conroy’s proposed mandatory Internet filter scheme.  This is far too fragmented to have any real impact; when there is not one particular message it’s easier for Senator Conroy to bury the issue; he can spend time demonstrating the disparity in positions rather than have to answer for the policy position. That he only announces Internet filtering matters in the festive season, surely points to the fact he knows that Australians really don’t support his style of state protection.

How to respond with real electoral clout?

While there is an apparent and concerted effort to develop a more coordinated approach with a singular focus to respond with political and electoral impact, this is not going to be developed in the short amount of time before the next election. Although there will be those, like the poorly named ‘Pirate Party’, that will try to make mileage out of the issue, entirely for the vain exercise of being vain. But the issue can be a way of generating some hysteria and paranoia among vulnerable  Liberal and Labor MHRs (and no I don’t mean the likes of Tanner since this is not a vote changing issue) and Senators.  And it is in generating this kind of hysteria where the real power is over Members of Parliament.  If they think they’ll lose their seat then the squeakiest voter base gets the gravy train.

Those that oppose the Internet filter must put aside what looks like childish antics and focus on the main game.  There must be no more rallies or protests or demonstrations until there is a focussed message.  The rallies and demonstrations can then be organised around the message; not the other way around.  Bernard Keene’s piece in Crikey! last week about “writing” ministers was partly correct however, completely ignorant to the point of organising protest email campaigns.  There must be coordinated efforts to lobby and engage ‘ordinary’ voters in marginal seats where such an issue has resonance.  A list of MPs and Senators needs to be drawn up with a coordinated lobbying schedule, and that these meetings and any outcomes are reported back to be evolve the lobbying strategy.  And this doesn’t necessarily have to be about lobbying Labor MPs; when there’s probably more point lobbying moderate (or wet) Coalition MPs.  And would I even dare to suggest that lobbying the Australian Industry Group (AiG) and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) – perhaps even the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) – would do more to sway the Minister to drop the mandatory internet filter.

Has there been any consideration given to where (and whether) the issue has any political traction? Is it an inner city issue for the latte swilling, chardonnay quaffing set? Or is it something that has broader appeal – is middle Australia being impacted?  Is big business going to be seriously disadvantaged or inconvienced? If so, how many millions; billions or trillions of dollars of inconvenience is going to be done to the business community? What is it about the issue that is enabling Conroy to have a more profoundly supportive base?  What are the insider language barriers preventing broader engagement; you know our obsession with using acronyms and in general being exclusionary because of an insistance on using a language with which most Australians are unfamiliar? Are the numbers of people ‘taking action’ by signing petitions and sending emails being counted to keep up the pressure on marginal MPs?  Whose being identified to help with the lobbying or to help fund the ongoing campaign?  What financial and human resources are going to be needed to maintain the campaign? Where are there friends and allies? How is the media (paid and unpaid) campaign being integrated into the overall campaign? Where is the money going to come from? Whose going to maintain the website and social media? How does the artwork get decided and when does the campaign reach different stages? Etc etc.

The kind of fundamentals a campaign needs to sort out before launching into the next wave of protest emails; electronic petitions and rallies.

This isn’t about a brand, marketing, customers or what halo strategy should be employed; this is about cold, hard politics. It’s about finding the right kinds of messages and ensuring a focussed, evolving and sustained dialogue with Australians so they either get on board and help make their marginal MPs paranoid and/or they change their vote.  (The first is probably easier to do since an election makes all MPs a little paranoid at the best of times.)

Then there has to be a coordinated effort of engaging and organising concerned Australians through a combination of online and off-line methods. What happens online and off-line should compliment each other.  It is truly amazing that for so-called Internet geeks and social media professionals that what matters politically is totally ignored in favour of the fancy, pretty approach and more banging on (analysis some will call it) about the evils and flaws of Conroy’s Internet censorship regime.  A lot has to be done to make sure that the Government doesn’t use a victory in the next federal election, as fodder (read ‘mandate’) to push through with something that only serves to further erode and impinge on our civil liberties and human rights.

Who cares which of the 4 (to-date) anti-internet-censorship website looks the best or is the most plugged in to web2.0 or SM, when the basics for any political campaign are forgotten at best and completely ignored at worst.

So before the Australian Interwebs embarks on its next un-coordinated and ill-conceived round of ‘campaigning’ with poorly timed rallies, can there first be a single coordinating group formed, with a single focussed message and a real plan for political action?

Alas I’m afraid it will just be more about the ‘brand’ than the politics. There’s also a good piece at the ABC strongly urging those opposing the filter to coordinate.

Failure to take a coordinated and politically sophisticated campaign will see the Honorable Senator Conroy announce the setting in stone of the mandatory Internet filter in December 2011.

What do you think? Do you think the mandatory Internet filtering scheme is good or bad? Would you change your vote because of its introduction?

Current List of Websites Opposing the Australian Mandatory Internet Filter

Originally posted at theangle.org
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  1. I have just discovered two more websites opposing the government’s mandatory Internet filter scheme. Further proof that there is no coordination whatsoever of the campaign.

    The sites are:
    Block the Filter
    Stop Internet Censorship

  2. Good points on all accounts. Too bad the main “leaders” of the campaign seem to be very hostile towards “outsiders”.

    • Thanks Alex and you’re totally right about the hostility shown to “outsiders”. I find it infuriating that the simple things of what constitutes a campaign are completely ignored for the more “s*xy” things. I’d also have to agree with what you said on your blog about the need to drop the censorship obsession and focus on the areas that will resonant stronger with the community.






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