The Internet is a filthy cesspit of depravity and moral turpitude (and must be stopped)

1 12 2008
The modern world is filthy!

The modern world is filthy!

There’s been a fairly heated debate recently in Aussie internet circles (follow Stilgherrian and efa_oz on Twitter for continued updates) about the merits failings of the Australian Government’s plot to censor the Internet. Thankfully it looks like Senator Conroy’s idiocy is doomed, thanks to the objections of the Greens and Liberals in the Senate (it’s a rare thing indeed for me to be agreeing with the Liberal Party, but there you go). The numerous technical issues with an ISP-level filter will be fatal to its successful implementation. It’s a colossal policy clusterfuck that will waste millions of dollars and irritate millions of people while degrading network speeds and eroding freedom and transparency (and I value my cognitive freedom extremely highly). Put that aside for a minute.

The debate has been interesting in terms of what it shows about perceptions of the Internet among web-illiterate people.

The discussion around whether or not we should have a filter, as opposed to whether we could implement one, shows that people are very afraid and convinced that the Internet is destroying society. But wait a minute, the Internet IS society! Like any society, it has its dark alleys. But it also has its friendly sharing, helpful teachers and caring communities, and demonising it as some sort of festering cesspit of moral deviance is hardly likely to encourage responsible and productive use of such a powerful resource.

It’s almost as if some people still think of the Internet as some abstract metaphysical “cyber” world that exists as some other layer of reality, spreading its oily terror/porn tentacles and corrupting the youth (remember what Socrates was accused of?) – but it’s not like that at all.

The Internet is real people having real conversations with other real people. In fact this is the problem – you can have a conversation with a real person (or many of them at once) far too easily – without the sanitising intermediaries in the traditional media (newspapers, talkback radio etc). The medium may have changed, but people are still dealing with people, and the dangers are similar (although nobody has yet been stabbed in a fight on an Internet forum). The government doesn’t censor other means of personal communication (the Internet is no longer a mass medium, it is a personal medium), why should it censor the Internet? To protect me from harm? Are we really that risk-averse?

Some key points about safety on the net:

  • Just as in real life, parents have to protect their children from dangers.
  • Just as in real life, you don’t have to visit the seedy part of town if you don’t want to.
  • Just as in real life, blocking a freeway doesn’t stop me driving on other roads (it will increase congestion though).
  • Just as in real life, the government has no right to tell me who I can and can’t talk to.
  • Jut as in real life, broken laws should be investigated and punished by the proper law enforcement officials and the legal establishment.

While it’s a truism that there is some dodgy stuff out there on t’Internet, it’s also true that you have to go looking for it. Just like real life! Sure, protect the children, but we’re not all children. Treating the citizens of Australia like kids that have stayed up past their bedtime is arrogant and offensive!

Clive Hamilton has revealed himself as a goose for not understanding what the Internet is and isn’t. He’s also revealed his sneering lack of respect for the opinions and freedoms of his fellow Australians. Think of the children? Clive, that’s shorthand for “shoddy logic”. You don’t have to be an unthinking libertarian to oppose state-sponsored stupidity.

Senator Conroy’s filter plan is supposed to go to live trials in December. Hopefully the inevitable technical failure of the trials, combined with evaporating political support for the plan (even child welfare groups think it’s a dumb idea), consigns this stupidity to the recycled paper bin.

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4 responses

2 12 2008
Nic Hodges

Nice one Timmy.

There’s been a hell of a lot of focus from the tech community over on why the filter won’t work from a technical perspective (Mark Newton’s analysis is probably the best I’ve read: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=8098&page=0).

Unfortunately the wider population don’t really care about the technical aspects, and I think it’s time that the conversation was steered more towards the social implications and precedents the censorship would signal.

Thankfully it’s looking likely that the filter will be doomed, but what is unfortunate is that this debate hasn’t put the focus on the role and reality of the internet. I’m sure the recent debate has only increased the paranoia in parents about an internet brimming with paedophiles and terrorists.

And now we’re about to give 200,000 high school students laptops that have social networks blocked (http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/laptops-in-schools-will-be-antisocial/2008/11/30/1227979845018.html).

We’ve got a way to go yet.

2 12 2008
Tim

Thanks Nic,
Yes, there has been some excellent commentary from a variety of technical experts on why the filtering scheme won’t do what it’s intended to. There’s even an Ovum report from several years ago that investigated ISP-level filtering.
It just really frustrates me that people feel the need to create a moral panic about such a non-issue, without understanding the consequences of a filter.
And I don’t just mean the abstract “loss of freedom” consequences (which are important), I mean the economic effects of killing the confidence of online investors, e-business, academic research, and general productivity losses from an inefficient network.
We’re not willing to bear the economic costs of taking action on climate change, but apparently the moral danger the internet presents is worth taking the hit for. That seems completely arse-about to me.

3 12 2008
Ole Koksvik

Here’s a good thing to sign for Aussies: http://www.getup.org.au/campaign/SaveTheNet

20 12 2008
Stilgherrian · Links for 11 December 2008 through 20 December 2008

[…] The Internet is a filthy cesspit of depravity and moral turpitude (and must be stopped) | the platfo…: This article makes several points that I’ve been meaning to introduce into the censorship discussion but haven’t had time. “Just as in real life, parents have to protect their children from dangers. Just as in real life, you don’t have to visit the seedy part of town if you don’t want to. Just as in real life, blocking a freeway doesn’t stop me driving on other roads (it will increase congestion though).” […]

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