G’day - this is a presentation I gave at BarCamp Canberra 2009 about some of the challenges for the No Clean Feed campaign as I see them. I think it went ok - there were some nodding heads and the discussion picked up towards the end and I didn’t get lynched - all wins in my book.
Background on No Clean Feed: It’s basically the campaign against the government’s proposal to force Australian ISPs to filter what we can see, read and say online. I’m not here today to repeat everything that’s been said, blogged and tweeted about why the proposal won’t work technically, how it won’t protect the kids and all of that. There’s plenty of that online that you can read for yourself.
I’ve been concerned for some time now that the campaign against the filtering proposal wasn’t hitting the right marks, that what was being done wasn’t having much of an effect as far as influencing the decision makers was going. This unease has grown slowly over the last few months as I’ve participated with tweets and blog posts of my own, and through talking to people here in Canberra and up in Brisbane recently.
In preparing this talk, I had to come up with a way to make the intangible tangible. I had to figure out a measure of influence in this space. Given that I see this as a political problem, I looked at one place the political agenda is played out - the mainstream press. I looked at front pages for the last fortnight - I wanted to do a rough review of the issues capturing the hearts and minds of the nation for the week leading up to the No Clean Feed rally and the week after.
As you’ll see, the campaign isn’t just up against the filter, it’s also up against some very hostile memes.
So, to the week before the rally. Big issues: jobs and immigration.
BTW the images of the papers were gathered from http://theaustralian.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx and http://www.fairfaxphotos.com/pages/
Issues of the day: Jobs and mortgages
Mortgages and jobs again
The economy, executive salaries and military casualties were Thursdays issues.
More on military casualties and a little on the Queensland election that happened the same day as the rally.
On Saturday the 21st of March, the Digital Liberty Coalition held their March in March up near Parliament House here in Canberra. About 150 people showed up.
I couldn’t be there - and frankly I doubt I’d have gone if I could have because I don’t think rallies have much political influence these days - but I watched the rally progress on Twitter and Flickr.
I wasn’t surprised at the small turn out; I’d done a quick survey on my blog that week and the few returns I got indicated to me that not many people would be going to the rally and those that did would be locals. Pretty much all of the interstate respondents indicated that they wouldn’t be traveling to Canberra for the rally, either because they couldn’t afford it, or had other commitments.
I said before that I don’t think rallies have much political influence these days. I should clarify to say that I don’t think rallies have much positive influence, but I should add that I think they can have much larger negative influences. A small rally tells me that not many people care enough to show up. A small rally can have a negative group reinforcing effect - can make people question their commitment to the cause and reduce their contributions.
The tweets here made me concerned - if those who did show up walked away unsatisfied, what does that mean for the campaign? Will they pause before contributing to future events?
The pictures made me worry too - mainly because of the missed opportunities when it came to branding. Looking at these pictures in isolation of the flickr groups, sets, tags or titles, what could you say they were of? Only one of these pictures tells me it has anything to do with a political issue. On the left we have a man speaking at a microphone, at the bottom we have a wider angle shot of some people gathered around the man on stage. What’s he talking about? It could be anything. Over on the right we have three costumed girls standing in the shade of some trees. It looks like they’re having a nice time, but we have no idea why they’re there. In a media environment where spokespeople can’t say boo without having some branding above, below or behind them telling you what the event is and who the sponsors are I think there was a major opportunity missed. Why weren’t those signs set up around the stage so that anyone snapping or filming it would get at least a glimpse of the messages? And just going back to the girls, I know it’s the called the Digital *Liberty* Coalition, but making yourself look *really different* isn’t exactly the way to get mainstream voter buy-in to your message, so I think that was a miscalculated step.
So lets now look at how well the message got to the punters...
So, how did the rally go in terms of spreading the word? Not very well, if Monday morning’s papers are anything to go by. But lets be honest, it’s a hostile world out there for an idea - especially when you’re up against an election and an especially violent crime.
That trend continued through the week. More on the bikies.
More on the bikies.
And just when you thought it would all come back to money and jobs and mortgages, the story about the Defence minister is published.
And that story dominated Friday’s papers as well.
This is a concept map I threw together back in January 09. I wanted to map out some of the dominant players and the not-so-dominant players to see if there were opportunities being missed and perhaps better ways of engaging.
There are four main clusters: the pro clean feed advocates on the left, the enablers up the top, the No Clean Feed activities moving towards the right hand side of the page and then over on the right hand side the media observing everything going on and reporting it.
I coded opportunities in blue, challenges and shortcomings in red and questions or observations down the bottom of the page in yellow.
I’d just like to talk through some of the lines of thought outlined on the map.
Looking at the pro filter advocates - I started exploring who they were, who they represented and what might influence their corporate sponsors - activities like boycotts. Not sure how positive an activity that would be ultimately. One thing that I noticed between doing this map and now is a blog post by a guy up in Brisbane which called for Clive Hamilton’s articles - where he claimed university affiliations - to be peer reviewed. That post got a reaction from Hamilton, which tells me that he regards the university affilitation as something important. I thought it was really interesting that of all the blog posts challenging his position on filtering, that was the one that got a reaction and a personal reply.
Focusing on the enablers - I started thinking about the role of the public servants. You’ll notice that I’ve marked action by the public servants in the communications department as red, because I can see that anything vaguely subversive is going to lead to APS Code of Conduct breaches and that ultimately helps no one. Moving over to the ISPs - I have an unknown - I don’t know what would happen if an ISP refused to implement filtering if it were legislated.
Moving over to the No Clean Feed nodes, I’ve noted here a whole lot of advocacy activities. Unfortunately, I see a lot of the blog posts and tweets, my own included, have just fallen into a giant echo chamber, preaching to the converted. The only blue nodes I have here are the ones that engage with those unaware of the proposal (like MySpace or Facebook) or where the filter has been debated, like in the comment fora attached to mainstream press coverage. That’s a chance to change someone’s mind, rather than just repeat the same “it won’t work” arguments, or worse still mock or berate from afar.
That said, there was a small group of blog posts I did see in the early days of the campaign in which ALP members were cutting up their membership cards and posting images of the cut up membership cards online. Now I don’t think that’s going to have the ALP’s national secretariat quaking in their boots, but I liked seeing that some folk were willing to withdraw their political and financial support rather than grumble and continue paying.
Finally looking to the media. I think it’s great there are some journalists keeping up the coverage on this - I’m thinking of Asher Moses in the SMH and David Earley up at the Courier Mail. But I wonder if the media could pack a bigger punch if the tech savvy journalists could collaborate with their press gallery counterparts - the ones who work in Parliament House and have access to the pollies and their staffers - to put the questions to them in doorstops and get the story on to the front pages.
The other thing that came to me was that the media had missed great opportunities too - back at the start of the campaign there were a few busts of quite large rings of people trading in child exploitation material. But only once - from memory - did the journos ask the cops whether the filter would have helped or hindered their investigations, and then it was only included as an afterthought seemingly. To me that would have been a good angle for a story - Dear Minister, why are you pushing for a filter that will hinder police investigations into child exploitation material? And while I have you here, why aren’t you telling cabinet to put the money into law enforcement resources rather than tearing it out?
But I digress.
So as the debate around the filter progresses, I think it’d be worthwhile for those against the filter to pause and think about these questions.
What’s the ultimate objective? What are we *for* ? Are we for a system that stops kids being able to get to adult material, but one with appropriate oversight and accountability and redress for those affected by false positive barring? Are we for more money to the law enforcement units that deal with exploitation? There’s a lot of talk about what we’re against and why - perhaps we should start talking about what we’re for.
What viable alternatives do we propose? If we say that parental responsibility and education are the solution, can we collaborate with education experts to come up with a digital literacy / online risk awareness program that can be easily absorbed by time-poor parents who aren’t IT folk?
How do we best influence the decision-makers to achieve what we’re for and stop what we’re against? Nobody seems to have asked Senator Conroy the circumstances under which he might change his position - is that something worth doing?
One view expressed from the floor at BarCamp Canberra was that the trial of the filter had to fail - that was the only way the filter proposal could be killed with the government saving face.
The old saying is that “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. I’d say that the No Clean Feed campaign thus far could fairly be described as adversarial, which is to be expected, but given that that approach appears to have pushed the communications minister into a corner where he’s more likely to lash out, perhaps it’s time to consider more honey approaches.
1. The No Clean Feed Campaign:
Looking for Opportunities to
Presentation to BarCamp Canberra #2
28 March 2009
Dean aka @deanlk
7. March in March Rally