Stopping Australian Internet Censorship: Strategy Discussion #nocensorship #nocleanfeed

On Saturday January 10th, I went to a meeting of the Brisbane branch of the Digital Liberty Coalition, and came away with the job of drafting a leaflet for the next small public protest, planned for Australia Day.

The leaflet needs to reflect the strategy of the anti-censorship campaign. After the December 13th 2008 rallies in six capital cities, plus the one in Hobart a week later, some very useful debate about strategy and tactics cropped up. I want this article to bring that debate to as wide an audience as possible, and I want to use that debate to draft the leaflet. There are several different possible strategies, and we need to know what people think is the most effective one.

Using the terms “Clean Feed” and “filtering” instead of “censorship”

I brought up this topic at the meeting last night, after this comment about the December 13th 2008 rally in Melbourne:

Several speakers and posters referred to internet “filtering”.

That, like the “no cleanfeed” campaign name, reflects success of the enemy’s slick marketing strategy which has involved spending millions to spread the concept of “internet safety” – and similar doublespeak.

Other speakers did not mention filtering and spoke only of “censorship”. I suspect the organizers understand the point, and are trying to make the shift, but have not yet grasped the fact that making the shift itself requires open discussion/debate of the difference at rallies – ie take the opportunity of those speakers or posters referring to filtering to explain the purpose of a policy of never referring to filters, but only to censorship.

Also, such policies need to be debated at organizing meetings and formally adopted, so people fully understand (and can change) the tactics.

The Government’s tactics are based on getting people to assume that the Internet is dangerous and dirty, and that people need to Government to clean it up for them. I agree with the argument that using words like “clean feed” and “filter” put us on the back foot. I think that use of those words should be discouraged by people campaigning against the Government’s censorship plans.

It’s been argued here that this means making anti-censorship the main thrust of the campaign, and that this is bad because we need to convince people who do not support free speech as a principle. I agree that we do need to win over people who don’t hold free speech as an absolute good, but I think when we mention the Government’s plans, we can still label them as what they are – censorship – while still appealing to moderate people. We do that by not making anti-censorship the main thrust of our arguments. For instance, the same comment I just linked to says “many people who are anti-Mandatory ISP Level Filtering don’t care about
the censorship angle either – they are against $44m white elephants”.

If we decided, for example,  to make that point about white elephants the main thrust of the anti-censorship campaign, when we mention it we would say “The Government’s internet censorship plan will cost $44 million of your money” instead of “The Government’s internet filter will cost $44 million of your money”. Using the word “censorship” does not in itself imply making censorship the main thrust of the campaign.

At the meeting last night, we discussed how we might go about convincing people who use Twitter (including many Australian anti-Internet-censorship activists) to not use the “hashtag” #nocleanfeed and switch instead to #nocensorship. (A “hashtag” is a word with the “hash” symbol (#) in front of it. Hashtags can be tracked using a service like twitter search. Click here to see the most recent twitter posts with #nocleanfeed, and click here to see the most recent twitter posts with #nocensorship. If you look at the posts on and after January 10th 2009, you’ll notice a lot of debate has already sprung up about which hashtag should be used.

In fact, which hashtag is used on twitter is not that important in itself. Twitter is mostly going to be used by people who are already active in campaigns or engaged with the issue. But calling the Government’s plans either “censorship” or a “filter”, or “clean feed”, in front of the public, over and over again, will allow one idea or the other to seep out into the community.

How do we reassure people when the Internet can’t possibly be controlled?

One idea that I originally quite liked is that we should tell people who are worried about what their kids might see on the Internet that they can install programs on their own computers, so they can control what their kids can and can’t see. This comment made me think twice about that:

…the line pushed by ISPs and others that parents can control kids access effectively is completely unrealistic.

It is also radically inconsistent with simultaneous arguments that
censorship won’t work because people who want to get access to
forbidden porn can easily use technical workarounds.

Basically its dishonest campaigning. The real options are government
censorship or kids being able to access porn and parents needing to be
able to help them to deal with that.

A better argument is that governments taking responsibility
undermines kids and parents learning how to deal with it, when this in
fact is the only way to deal with it, since government censorship merely encourages furtive interest in the forbidden.

IIt’s dead easy to get around the filter. Anyone with even my low level of technical knowledge can use a proxy to get around censorship. And all it takes is one good article in plain language and millions of people without even my knowledge will be able to use one as well.

So, how do we reassure people who might be convinced by pro-censorship arguments because they are afraid of what children might see online? I see two major lines we can use here:

1) We can say that the best way to protect children is to have an open, honest relationship with them, so that they will feel free to tell you about what they see online.

2) We can keep on saying that money needs to go to the police who actually hunt down online predators, instead of on a filter that won’t work.

Seeing paedophiles everywhere is a form of child abuse in itself.

This article at Strange Times suggests a new approach to the argument. The idea is that, as social conservatives look for (and see) child abuse everywhere, even in innocent photos of naked children, they are the ones who are creating an atmosphere of sexualised childhood. They are the ones with dirty minds who see a ped under every bed. This argument implies that we need to label Rudd, Conroy, Hamilton etc as the ones who are really damaging children.

So then, here is my first draft of a leaflet for January 26th (and, I hope, beyond) that uses some of these arguments. Please post your comments, suggestions, corrections etc – these ideas need to be debated by as many people as possible. Pro-censorship trolling not welcome at this debate.

For reference, see the leaflet that was handed out at the anti-censorship rallies on December 13th 2008. This leaflet can be downloaded from here.

Stop Internet Censorship in Australia

Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia.

All of these countries exercise strict controls over what its citizens can read online.

The Rudd Labor government wants to add Australia to that list, and is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to subject all internet users to a secret and unaccountable blacklist.

Please read more about the plan, learn about what the government is doing to our rights online, and find out more about what you can do to protect those rights.


No. Anyone who wants to get around Government censorship can use a “proxy”. This is a simple and easy way of hiding what you are doing on the Internet, and it means that you’ll be able to look at anything the Government doesn’t want you to see. Websites like and make it easy for you to use proxies to get around censorship – they are already used by millions of people in the dictatorships where the Internet is censored. Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans, Saudi Arabians and many others don’t let their governments tell them what they can see and do online – and Australians won’t either.

So if it won’t work, why are you worried?

Because we take child protection seriously. Minister Conroy’s excuse for trying to censor the Internet is that children are victims of pornography on the Internet, both by seeing it online and by being forced to make child pornography. But the best way – the ONLY way – to stop child pornography online is to make sure the police who hunt down child predators get the money they need to do their job. Minister Conroy’s censorship plan will cost $40 million (and that’s just for starters) – every single cent of that should go to the police, instead of to a censorship plan that won’t work.

What about children who see pornography online? If people like Minister Conroy have their way, we’d all be scared, and lock the Internet up tightly. People like Minister Conroy would like that, because people who are scared need the Government to protect them, instead of looking after themselves. Instead of doing what the Government wants, and jumping at shadows, you can protect your children by having an open and honest relationship with them so they will tell you about what they see online. That way, you’ll be able to seriously discuss it with them, you’ll be able to give them the help and support and power they need, and you’ll know if something is giving them problems.

This is a big choice, and it’s a little scary for some people. But if you want your children to grow up strong, and able to look after themselves, censorship isn’t the way. It teaches them that they need someone else to hide the bad parts of the world from them. A better way is to teach children that parts of the world are pretty bad, and they need to be strong so they can deal with it.

Instead, we have a Government which assumes that everyone is a potential child molester who needs to have parts of the Internet hidden away from them. Isn’t that a pretty weird and creepy way for your Government to think?

How do we stop this censorship?

The Government needs to pass a new law to make this happen. At the moment, the Greens and the Liberal/National Coalition are against the censorship plan, which means the Government won’t be able to pass that law – so they won’t be able to censor the Internet. The Greens look pretty solid, which means we need to concentrate on the Liberals and Nationals.

There are two sides to this debate inside the Liberal and National Parties. One side doesn’t want the Internet companies to do the Government’s dirty work – that side supports free speech. The other side gets their support from pro-censorship people, and would love to support the censorship plan. So we need to do everything we can to make sure that the pro-free-speech people inside the Coalition win the argument.

That means we need to convince as many people as we can that this plan is a bad idea. When Liberal Party MPs and Senators talk to their voters and supporters, we want those supporters to tell them not to support Internet censorship. So when you’re talking to your friends and relatives, think about the arguments in this leaflet, and discuss them. Remind your friends and relatives that the only way to protect children online is to fund the police properly, and that it’s the job of parents to help their children deal with life, and that parents don’t need the Government to tell them how to raise their children.

Where can I find more information?

Look up these websites, and join in the discussion:

If you’re a member of the Twitter website, check out

8 Responses to “Stopping Australian Internet Censorship: Strategy Discussion #nocensorship #nocleanfeed”

  1. 1 Arthur

    Some suggested changes:


    All of these countries exercise strict controls over what its citizens can read online.
    The Rudd Labor government wants to add Australia to that list, and is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to subject all internet users to a secret and unaccountable blacklist.


    “Citizens of all these countries are forced to rely on free proxy servers to find out what’s actually going on.

    Proxy services like those listed at and are critically important.

    The Australian government wants to help repressive governments shut them down. By imposing arbitrary government censorship on Australian ISPs the ALP’s notorious “NSW right” government will help their mates in the porn industry by encouraging sales of government approved “Australian made” porn, while also helping their mates abroad by flooding those proxy servers with Australians looking for porn that isn’t government approved. As well as slowing down the internet generally to help their mates, they would shut it down for those who need it most.”

    Delete the Will it Work? section and modify the “why worried” section accordingly.

    The “How do we stop” section could probably go too. Seems a bit patronizing.

    Glad you didn’t include the stuff about rewarding the moral panic mongers with $40 million more funding for police in the actual draft.

    Re the twittering. Issue of whether (and how) to change an existing channel name is quite separate. You might have been stuck with an organizing channel named “filtering” or “conroy” or something else just as unsuitable as a “brand”. Doesn’t matter (much) what an internal channel is called, but the brand obviously does need to emphasize opposition to censorship.

    Others may join in for different reasons but there’s no need to water down the message by pandering to their perspective.

    BTW There’s something “off” about not having leaflet on an ordinary website and using a fileservice soliciting subscribers instead.

  2. 2 keza

    I’ve always thought that there was a problem with arguing that it won’t work because people can easily get around it in various ways (eg by using proxy servers).   This tends to suggest that it’s not really such a problem. (although it can still be argued that the internet here will become unbearably slow(er) ).

    The point about people being able to get around it can  still be made, but two other things need to be said in addition to Arthur’s points above (which I don’t fully grasp).  The first is that getting around it via using proxy servers etc is not something that most people currently know how to do.  It’s still geek territory and will create a situation in which ordinary people who just want to use the internet without understanding much about how it works, will struggle. Secondly, the effect will be quite the opposite of ‘protecting young people’. What would happen is what already happens in schools and other places where there is a firewall.  Various geeky kids will get around it  and show others how to do it. These kids will then be way in advance of their parents and it will all be done in secret.  That completely undermines the best way to ‘protect kids’ which is via having an open, relaxed attitude with the adults in their life.

    While I recognise the necessity to acknowledge that many parents worry about what their kids might see on the internet, I think that an essential prong of such a campaign must be one of coming out in favour of empowering parents in a twofold manner (a) by arguing that they can look after their kids and (b) that the dangers of the internet are wildly exaggerated.   With respect to the latter, it would be worth pointing out that the ‘normal’ dangers remain the most serious ones (that is, everyday accidents, especially road accidents).  Kids are far safer using the internet than when they are engaging in most other everyday activities.

    I’d like to see a section in the leaflet entitled “Don’t Panic”.

    I’m against taking a “lowest common denominator” approach for fear of alienating potential supporters.   I don’t know how this campaign is being organised, or who, if anyone, sees themselves as the leadership.  The best campaigns operate on several  levels. A vitally important level involves extended debate among those most active as to the best slogans to take and the overall general line.  This is where the issues really get thrashed out and people have to think!  It needs to be a democratic discussion in which issues are discussed  in a pricipled (although sometimes quite combatitive and intense) way,  with everybody getting a chance to have their say, before some sort of vote is taken.  Debates like that are *extremely* valuable, regardless of which line wins out and becomes the “official” one   (and there should of course be no restriction on minority group(s) producing leaflets of their own. These leaflets would just not be funded by the movement or appear under the movement’s official logo/letterhead).

    I’m against major campaigns being run by small committees which don’t lead by having this sort of higher level debate involving a far broader group .

  3. 3 anita

    YM well done.Good points Arthur and Keza. (I like something with a heading Don’t Panic)

    I followed one of the links to DLC as i’d be interested in being involved in Adelaide meetings/organising but was dismayed by the links to the platinum and gold membership payment options. 

    If possible YM could pass on details about how to contact the Adelaide DLC group. Also dismayed that the DLC see that the wider campaign is about the introduction of an Australian Bill of Rights.  10 years ago when i studied this i reached the conclusion that B of R is ‘good’ for lawyers and law students but probably not much use for those whose rights need protection. There is the particularly thorny issue that is raised about the rights of children vis a vis parents -as well as other codification issues and so i have concerns that this is being used to promote this more general approach to ‘ law reform’.

    Also Get up are problematic – after signing their petition i got nothing about getting involved with anti-censorship or anti-‘filtering’ campaign etc., but rather their letter about how we need to donate to them and save the  planet.  Give me a break. 

    On the aspect of child ‘safety’ i have another relevant anecdote.   My going on 8 year old acquaintance got an ipod for christmas and guess what his Daddy found after wondering why he was spending so much time in his room with his ipod – you guessed it.  Afterall, sex is only a 3 letter word and is not difficult to spell for an 8 year old.  So now passwords have been installed etc., which have somehow ‘blocked’ access.  Am yet to get the full story, but his Dad mentioned that he forgot how much power there is in an ipod connecting to the Net. 

    Back to my thoughts on this campaign i think the emphasis needs to use humour and to focus in on Conroy and Rudd government and improved service provision.  I think this ought to highlight how as a Minister he is pursuing a contradictory dual approach to both improve iservice provision  and to slow it down in an attempt to give politicians more control in a way that can be politically manipulated in a most blatant fashion – politicians will power grab if they think they can get away with it – and what better smoke screen there is to take all this other power to make lists – from purportedly protecting children.  Bleagh, bleagh, bleagh. (Yuk)

    As someone who has been waiting nearly a year to get back on to a broadband connection after shifting providers for a good Telstra deal, i can categorically say that i don’t want speeds lowered any further as Australia is already behind the 8 ball.  (At least they didn’t get behind the trials but the shamozzle of network access to OPTUS etc..needs to be fixed this is what Conroty ought to be doing) 

    We have a case before the TIO in its FINAL stages –  that is TOTALLY INEFFECTIVE and needs to be given more teeth re consumer protection.  Now there is a good job for Conray. (I am sure Mark Newton et al could give him quite a few more)

    (Noted to follow up that someone commented somewhere else how the ‘implied rights doctrine’ was applicable to this issue, and that Hamilton writes at Overland.

    Highlight the contradictions expose the lies. Remember :;)) Where there is bulldust get out of the way of the stampede.  Where there is a stampede get out of the way of the Bulldust.

  4. 4 Arthur

    1. I like the idea of a “Don’t Panic” subhead and theme (naturally 😉

    2. This is linked to anita’s “Where there is bulldust get out of the way of the stampede. Where there is stampede get out of the way of the bulldust”. ie avoid any pandering whatever to the underlying promotion of fear etc. Don’t panic about it either – the actual tide in society is still flowing towards curiosity and tolerance, and the noisy backlash just reflects a natural conservative discomfort about that, and ineffectual attempts to reverse the unreversible. (Hmm comparisons with jihadis?)

    3. Strongly agree that “Get Up” is “problematic” (ie poison). They may be very helpful with resources, but its critical to establish independent organization which, as mentioned, needs to have open democratic structure and vigorous internal debate on line (which unavoidably results in formal endorsements of bad lines, but never fails to help better lines develop increased influence).

    4. BTW TIO’s well understood purpose is basically to provide people with a time consuming way to let off steam.

    5. Re the proxy technical issues being not understood. I don’t know how to explain clearly enough to be able to highlight it the way I suggested as it IS a technical issue not understood AT ALL by “internet savvy” people, or even geeks, but only by ISPs. Here’s a quick summary:

    6. Overwhelming bulk of internet traffic comes from “upstream” webservers through relatively narrow pipes (especially international links) to relatively wide (broadband) pipes for millions of end users. This is a physically impossible violation of the law that the flow out of a network to sinks equals the flow into a network from sources.

    7. The solution is that ISP “caches” are sources. The overwhelming bulk of media such as pictures, audio and videos, plus the static web pages are transmitted only once from upstream webserver to ISP cache on the first request and then repeatedly retransmitted by the ISP to end user for each subsequent request by same or other users. This is all done automatically and transparently.

    8. A large part of the repetitively downloaded media is porn. Hence ISP disk drives are huge stores of porn (including illegal porn). Naturally ISPs do not wish to focus attention on that and I am not disputing the tactical wisdom of leaving this stuff unexplained. Like I said, I do not know how to get it across without it also helping the enemy.

    9. Consequence is that if a significant, even though small, proportion of internet users switched from the ISP proxies that are served from their caches to use other proxies, there would be a dramatic increase in costs and slowing down of internet, as well as overwhelming the free proxies available which aren’t capable of handling the volumes of media traffic handled by local ISPs.

  5. 5 Sam D

    Hi Keza, good points there. DON’T PANIC! 🙂 I suspect that Douglas Adams would approve were he still alive.

  6. 6 patrickm

    The plot thickens. This article ‘Christian Lobby: The New Lions of Clean Fead’ by Stilgherrian  ,details who is to head the lobby.  ‘In steps the smart, media-skilled moral warrior, Brigadier Jim Wallace (retired) — former commander of Australia’s elite SAS Regiment in Vietnam [wrong; he was commander quite recently] and now managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby. This article indicates that a campaign strategy has been adopted by Conroy and will go ahead. 

  7. 7 Barry

    The forthcoming by-election in the well-heeled federal electorate of Higgins in Melbourne will be interesting, as the Labor Party is not standing a candidate and it will probably end up a contest between the Liberal Party and the Greens. The latter have selected Clive Hamilton as their candidate. His candidature has prompted the head of Canberra’s Eros Foundation, Fiona Patten, to also stand, as she is opposed to Hamilton’s support for Internet censorship. According to a report in ‘The Age’ she advocates an unregulated Internet.

    Hamilton is to the right of the former conservative Prime Minister, Howard, on this issue, as Howard supplied filtering software to families, giving them the choice over whether the ‘net should be filtered and, if so, how. Labor’s PM Rudd shares Hamilton’s support for central filtering by the state: a far-right position.

    Hamilton’s general world-view is ultra-reactionary and right-wing. He actually believes this: “I think where we’re going is to begin to see a Gaian earth in its ecological, cybernetic way, infused with some notion of mind or soul or chi, which will transform our attitudes to it away from an instrumentalist one, towards an attitude of greater reverence”.

    (Good luck Fiona!)

  8. 8 Bill Kerr

    interesting Barry – given that the Green Senator Scott Ludlam has taking a good stand on the filtering issue, you have to wonder how their internal processes function

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