Wake up and smell the democracy, Stilgherrian


opinion I couldn’t help but laugh when I read Stilgherrian’s rant on ABC Unleashed yesterday about how Australia’s “digital elites” may understand technology but somehow don’t get the apparently unbelievably complicated world of Federal politics.

In it, Stilgherrian advances the same old tired argument that it is political parties that are better suited to determining who among their number should become ministers when they win government — and that anyone else is naïve to want any say in the matter.

The issue has particularly come to the fore over the past weeks due to the ongoing speculation in Australia’s technology sector that Labor Senator Kate Lundy, who has demonstrated an enduring interest in and commitment to the IT industry, would make a better Communications Minister than incumbent Stephen Conroy.

The main problem I have with Stilgherrian’s article is not his argument that some Australians don’t understand how politics works. This is patently true.

Nor is it his contention that the Federal Government’s technology policy may not change even if Conroy was removed from office and replaced with Lundy. That truth is also self-evident.

No, my objection to Stilgherrian’s argument is that it contains an implicit statement that it is impossible for Australians to understand both technology and the shady politics which govern our somewhat democratic system of government. And therefore, that we should just give up and leave the politicians to their happy merry-go-round.

But neither of these facts are true. Some Australians do understand both spheres. It is possible to be smart, funny and good-looking, all at once. And we should never, ever, leave politicians to their own devices. They come up with the quaintest notions.

It should be evident by now that there are examples of informed people littered everywhere through Australia’s technology community, and they are using their knowledge of both spheres to drive real political outcomes.

One example would be the efforts of Internode network engineer Mark Newton. Newton has used every political avenue at his disposal — the press, parliamentary committees, senate enquiries, live debates on TV, engagement with lobbying organisations such as Electronic Frontiers Australia and more — to engage with the political process on its own level and drive outcomes.

And Newton has been extraordinarily successful in doing so. His constant opposition of foolhardy government policies on primarily technical grounds has had an extraordinary effect on those policies.

Many of these activities have had the effect of feeding information and arguments through the press even into parliamentary debates themselves through avenues such as Green Senator Scott Ludlam, who stated this year that he had learnt much from Australia’s “really lively technology press”.

If it wasn’t for these sorts of activities, I doubt if the filter legislation would have been delayed as far as it has been. At every step of the way through implementing this policy, Conroy has faced opponent after opponent who have argued against the filter on every concievable ground. And they will continue to do so.

Another example of an organisation which has consistently engaged with the political process and which has the ear of many politicians around the nation is the loud-mouthed Digital Tasmania group, which is almost singlehandedly pushing the cause of better broadband infrastructure in the state — and winning, if yesterday’s connection of the first NBN services in Tasmania and the installation of the Basslink cable across Bass Strait over the past few years is any indication.

Speaking to Digital Tasmania, I have been amazed at the level of knowledge the group has of the political process and of how to influence it.

Now it is time to return to the stimulus for this discussion — the speculation — and, from some quarters, the overt lobbying effort — regarding the widespread desire in Australia’s technology community for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to be ousted from his portfolio and replaced with Lundy.

Let me pose one question. Why do Conroy apologizers (a mantle Stilgherrian appears to have accepted in his article) constantly overlook the fact that it is not unreasonable to expect that a Minister have a deep insight and understanding of their portfolio and make sensible policy decisions in it?

Stilgherrian’s contention is that apart from the internet filter — an issue he claims is only of interest to a “vocal minority”, everything else in Conroy’s portfolio is chugging along just fine.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is that the NBN is a popular policy and that the public has been willing to overlook many of Conroy’s embarrassing mistakes in his portfolio over the years because of the NBN’s enticing lure of optic fibre to their houses being dangled in their faces.

However, if you examine Conroy’s performance on a more granular level you will find that it contains a litany of disturbing missteps.

The Opposition has — rightly and consistently — pointed out that the Government never drew up a full cost/benefit analysis before approving the NBN policy, and debate continues — three years after it was first put forward — on the question of to what extent Australia’s economy will truly benefit from universal high-speed broadband.

Conroy has consistently refused to release information about how the policy is being implemented. We know very little about the internal operations of NBN Co, and it was only after Greens Senator Scott Ludlam forced a motion in parliament that the Government consented to release a — harmless — detailed study into the NBN.

Then there is the matter of how Conroy has dealt with the sector which he is responsible for setting policy over.

This is a minister who has potentially prejudiced one of Australia’s most high-profile copyright trials, who has used parliamentary privilege to publicly attack search giant Google for its accidental collection of Wi-Fi payload data, and who has been negotiating behind closed doors with Australia’s largest telco for months on a monumental deal which will shape the whole future of Australia’s telecommunications industry — in complete secrecy.

And that’s before we even get into the mandatory internet filter.

But more than this, it has been Conroy’s off-the-cuff comments which have been most disturbing to Australia’s technology sector.

The Minister continues to misspeak — sometimes maliciously – as when he has implied that opponents of the filter are pro-child pornography — and sometimes accidentally, as when he discussed the “spams and scams coming through the portal” and revealed the depth of his lack of knowledge about computer security.

Stilgherrian is right when he says that there are issues too with Lundy – such as her marriage to David Forman, who represents virtually all of Australia’s telcos in their war against Telstra.

But there is a concrete reason behind the support from Australia’s technology community for Lundy. The senator — on a range of issues, from her attempted weakening of the internet filter, to her support for Government 2.0 initiatives and a government representative for SMEs — has supported the technology sector instead of trying to control, and sometimes oppose it.

It is not wrong, it is not misguided, it is not ignorant, it is not naive, it is not a waste of time and effort and it is not foolhardy for Australians to attempt to replace a Minister with another politician who they believe will do a better job, through any means they know how.

It is simply democracy.

Image credit: Phil Ragen, royalty free


  1. It is a mistake to think that politics is anything except the exercise of power. Gillard has it. Conroy has it. The shadowy masters of the Labor party have it. The rest of us – who, presumably, have not got that sort of power – are condemned to weep and gnash our teeth in the outer darkness.

    Except, except, except… Does it really work that way? Are ministers all-powerful? This is the key question – because if politics is the exercise of power, then _anyone_ who exercises power, be that a minister or Mark Newton or a sufficiently outraged Facebook group can set policy directions, can hire and fire ministers, can change the terms of the debate.

    So, who has the power? And who is using it?

  2. I would side with Stilgherrian (did he used to be a reporter on Beyond 2000?) on this one.
    I’m not sure if your premise that the NBN is a popular policy and the filter is not holds in the broader community outside of tech circles.
    Does my mother-in-law want to pay more for a fibre based Internet connection when she is happy with el-cheapo 256Kbps to check her email once a day? No way.
    Does she like the idea of a filter that magically tries to stop her primary school students from accessing bad material? Yes.
    Do you think in the broader community she is unique in these views? I wouldn’t think so.
    Am I sounding like Kevin Rudd asking myself questions? Most definitely.
    P.S.Not sure if you subscribe to the AUSNOG mailing list, but Mark Newton himself has acknowledged on more than one occasion that arguing against the filter on technical grounds is a total waste of time.

    • No, I was never a reporter on Beyond 2000. I’ve done very little TV, never as a reporter but only as a talking head “expert”. The closest to Beyond 2000 would be appearing on an episode of Sex/Life back in 1996. Don’t ask.

      • You should never had denied you were a reporter on Beyond 2000 — it would have added to your aura of mystique. And once it made Wikipedia it would have been real ;)

    • Everyone uses their mother in law as an example, but the truth is that many mother in laws are pretty up to date with these issues. My mother certainly understands the issues and I believe many people of that age group (50+) do as well.

      Plus, one study found about the filter that the more parents found out about it, the more they disapproved of it:


      And arguing against things on technical grounds is — as many sysadmins have repeatedly discovered over the years — sometimes a waste of time. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. Because often the ones doing the arguing *are actually technically right* and that matters in the long term — even if the only reason it matters is that you can say “I told you so, now listen to me about the next idea” when things screw up.

  3. What most caught my ire while reading Stil’s post was his repeated suggestion that “digital elites” were clueless about politics. The group he’s referring to sounds more like the “digital rabble” to me, because those who I would describe as “eiltes” generally have quite a savvy approach to the political elements of the debate (or learn very quickly).

  4. Aparently I am a digital Elite, but not as awesome one as Jeff Waugh, who bitchslapped me for me spelling.

    I concider myself to be politically aware. After all, one of the voices in my head is @fakepaulkeating and I did write articles on how to lobby for change in policy and how the backburning of the policy was not a win for us.

    What impressed me with the #openinternet debate was the political naivity of the blogosphere and the impotence of nerdrage.

    1. Political naivity. Sir Humphry knows how to change a politicians mind. You tell the pollie that he will lose the election (called a coragous decision). Nothing that the #openinternet crowd did impress Conroy and Rudd. Look back at the Sir Humphrey article, you got to hit pollies where it hurt. Noticed how the mining lobby forced a change in leader? A politically charged disinfomation campaign and a well funded warchest does wonders, compared to pointing out facts and errors with a pollies position on twitter.

    2. Nerdrage. All well and good, if you aim it where it hurts the pollies. Twitter isnt thaat place. It is Alan Jones, the Murdoch press, the local newspapers, TV adds and political party meetings. It just allowed Conroy to laugh his head off. EFA and GetUp should have thrown money at add agencies to put out ads to change the electorate voice. No one did. We lost.

    As Fake PaulKeating would say: Suck it F*&%nuckles, you played with the big boys and got the ^$*# kicked out of you.

    • I will agree that whenever the filter lobby gets powerful friends, it gets somewhere, and this is probably the lesson of the mining saga.

      For example, when Yahoo and Google lined up against the filter, it caused quite the international controversy — and their opposition to the idea is still often mentioned today. I would like to see more technology companies in Australia come out against the filter. The problem is that most technology companies operate on quite a traditional model and so wouldn’t see the filter as that big of a deal … and even if they did, they would see it primarily as a censorship issue, not as a threat to their business as the mining companies do the RSPT.

  5. I’m riding an odd line on this issue at the moment… I think I know Stil and his writing well enough to understand he was being deliberately provocative while possibly exaggerating an issue with a kernel of truth in it. There *do* seem to be many participating in this debate who really don’t get how the machinery of politics and government works.

    There are yet others, and I’d like to think I’m among them, who understand richly how the political and government machine works. At times we’ll play and argue within the bounds of that machine. At other times, we’ll get a touch hot under the collar and a little ranty and say something that obviously won’t cut it in political circles but resonates with our own community. That actually strikes me as pretty astute – you craft your message to suit your audience.

    I’m as guilty (deliberately or accidentally) of this as anyone else.

    As Mark says in the first comment, “who has the power? And who’s using it?” I think the answer is all of us, contrary to Stil’s position (which I still like the guts of). If we want to make a change, we need to appeal to those who can bring about the change. That varies with the issue.

    What I do know, is that for the time being, internet filtering and web activity capture are very low on the average person’s agenda. As a lobby, the tech industry and the politically active who care about these things aren’t appealing to the larger voting public in the right way. I’m not sure what the right way is, but I know we’re not doing it.

    • What I want to break down is this stupid dichotomy between “political circles” and “ordinary people”. As Stilgherrian’s own site states: “All publication is a political act.”

      Whether we want to admit it or not, Twittering your protest on an issue is an act of political dissent, albeit on a minor scale, and it does have an impact. You don’t have to have an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s front page to have an impact — any time you speak about an issue in any way you will have an impact.

      Arguing anything else is disenfranchising people and I’m against it.

  6. The great unwashed, yep I guess I’m in there. Do I understand politics etc? Hmmm, if you’re talking detailed understanding of how Govt operates and makes decisions…no. BUT…. It’s pretty damn simple, politicians are elected by their local communities to look after their interests. They then take the party political line which may vary widely from the locale they were elected by and follow that. Getting and maintaining power is the aim and any benefit or lip service to local issues is simply expedience to the greater good..ie them staying in power.

    I could rant quite eloquently on bureaucracy and the petty impersonal manner it operates in, but time and place. Levels of Gov’t do not inspire me to anything, let alone confidence. Trouble is I think the peadophile war cry carries just enough weight for most to think, yes..filter…good idea. Do I understand exactly what that means? Nope, I am no techno geek but I do like some freedom of thought and action. I see way too many bodies both Gov’t and private that seem to think they have a right to every piece of information regardless. I mean if you have nothing to hide…. CRAP. It is erosion and abuse under the guise of … it’s for your protection. I am a simple, generally law abiding nobody. I use the net regularly, I have never been scammed or virused or botted. I am not an idiot. I use it, I don’t go to stupid places there, I do not download just anything. I do not give my details to just anyone. Just a regular Joanne…. but I think and I vote and I swing…err, politically speaking, wouldn’t want THEM thinking….

    mildly narky


  7. Stilgherrian set up a “digital elite” strawman which he then proceeded to beat down.

    Sloppy, even by my standards.

  8. If you’ve ever worked in gov’t you’ll see that Kristina has an interesting view on the matter. And by worked in gov I mean on the “get things done” level, not the media-facing or policy-facing side of it.

    Yes, Stil’ enjoys his provocative perspectives, bless him, as do others, and I appreciate the pot-stirring, but to claim the majority of people who oppose the filter are the heart of the movement, is incorrect. They are choosing their side, choosing their leaders and their “elite” and it looks to me like the informed ones are against the filter, as the EFF survey shows, and the misinformed (read that as those who don’t care or just follow the media releases and spin without question are on the other.)

    The leaders of this “Tribe” like Mark Newton, Lundy, Ludlam, EFF etc are helping those conversations occur on all the other levels.

    Hardly naive or ignorant.

    • Yup. And while everyone has their vote, I think a core democratic principle in our society is that the people making the decisions should be informed by the facts and act by them – and not ignore them for their own political expediency. I hate the idea of “politics”. It presupposes that there is something else in play apart from trying to achieve real outcomes that benefit people.

  9. It’s great that people are talking about my article, but there’s a problem with some critiques, including this one: not noticing the difference between “some” and “all”. The first sentence begins “Some days it feels like a whole bunch of people fighting internet censorship…”, by which I meant some of the people fighting internet censorship, not all of them. A bunch of people.

    I used the word “elites” for want of a better word to describe the people — again, some people not all people in this field, but a significant number — who “know all about technology” and denigrate politicians who try to talk technology but fail, but consider it OK to talk politics when they’re speaking from ignorance.. Again, some people, not all. Yes, there are people who know both politics and technology, but they’re not the people I’m talking about. What word would be better than elite? I couldn’t fine one before deadline.

    I stand my a comment that calling for Senator Conroy’s sacking is naive. It won’t change the policy, it turns it into a personal attack, and wastes energy that could be spent on things which might make a difference.

    As for most of Conroy’s portfolio chugging along just fine, well from the point of view of the Prime Minister and the mainstream media cycle is it. Sure, it’s possible to list a bunch of stuff we might not like, but none of it is the sort of stuff that Ministers are sacked for. Missteps at the granular level are irrelevant here. Me a Conroy apologist? Hardly.

    I accept that some of this confusion may be the result of my poor wording. The some/all distinction and the changes of viewpoint were, in hindsight, not as clear as they could have been. In hindsight I’d also have used a word other than “elite, because I forgot that’s code used by certain types of commentators. That was not my intent.

    • I accept your apology, Janet.


      (Meanwhile, feel free to refer to Delimiter readers and commenters as “elites”… compared to the commentary on this article and yours in other places, there’s no question that Renai can describe Delimiter’s readership demo as “information technology elites”.)

    • You still haven’t demonstrated, Stilgherrian, that it is not worth attempting to hold a minister accountable for their acts and bad policies, which used to be a core concept of our democratic system. Why should the public accept that just because a PM won’t sack a minister over the sort of mistakes Conroy has committed, he shouldn’t be sacked?

      I think at the core of your argument is the idea that we should simply accept the status quo and not agitate for any change. When in fact if you listen to the public’s view on this, you’ll find that there is a very great desire for a change, and a desire that politicians — who are, after all, nothing more than our elected representatives — recognise this.

      I don’t see why I should sit down, shut up, and let my ability to speak be silenced, just because whatever you define as the “mainstream media” or the accepted political cycle won’t take up the cause. I’ll create my own cause.

  10. I would happily pay more tax (lots more) if we got governments who could actually govern, and politicians who actually knew what they were doing. All they seem to do these days is just get themselves re-elected. And in NSW they are even failing at that!

    • The worst thing about the NSW situation is that there is little evidence we are going to get anything better than we already had. Sure, you’d think it couldn’t get worse. But the Opposition hasn’t really come out with much in the way of policy yet.

  11. Interesting discussion and while I’d take issue with Stilgherrian’s concept of “digital elites” I’d also disagree with Renai about his view on the selection of ministers and the effectiveness of the tech communities’ personal attacks on Conroy.

    As Stil points out Senator Conroy is delivering delivering party policy on Internet Filtering. Rather than campaigning to replace the minister, opponents of the filter need to be campaigning to change government policy.

    Sadly Stil is absolutely spot on with what Renai calls “the same old tired argument that it is political parties that are better suited to determining who among their number should become ministers when they win government — and that anyone else is naïve to want any say in the matter.”

    The Westminister system dictates ministers are chosen by and from the Parliament. The opponents of the Internet filter trying to intervene in that process is at best a waste of everyone’s time.

    Finally, it’s worth noting the efforts of Digital Tasmania. They are an effective lobby because they make clear to the electorate and politicians the risks to Tasmanian society should the state be bypassed by the digital economy.

    This effective articulation of the issues is also what the Australian Christian Lobby has successfully done in pushing the Internet filter.

    That, I would suggest, is Stil’s key point; opponents of the Internet filter need to stop the attacks on Conroy and focus on articulating their position in ways that engage the electorate and explain the issue to their elected representatives.

    That’s what democracy is.

    • As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, Conroy is not just delivering on ALP policy. He is actively contributing to shaping policy, and he has maliciously spoken out against opponents of both the policy and anything that he himself is promulgating. I think it’s misguided simply to say that Conroy is just the avatar of ALP policy. He is clearly much more than that.

      I would also say that it is misguided to assume that opponents of the filter policy aren’t doing everything they can — on every and any level — to make their case. This is an issue that has hit the mainstream media time and time again, parliamentary debates, house committees, doorstop question and answer sessions. The personal attacks on Conroy are just one avenue of a massive wave of attacks.

      What we witnessed during the speculation that Gillard would replace Conroy was pure desperation — the anti-filter lobby camp needs some ray of hope that things can change and people are listening.

  12. Paul, you’ve raised a couple of good points there.

    I didn’t pick up on it, but when Renai alleged that I was saying “it is political parties that are better suited to determining who among their number should become ministers when they win government”, he verballed me. I never said anything of the sort. As you say, the elected government chooses its ministers, and that’s just a fact of the Westminster system. I’m not saying this is the best system or even a good system — after all, it was designed back before there were even steam trains and telegraphs, let alone the internet. But it is the system we’re currently using. Changing that system is a whole ‘nuther project.

    Your observations about Digital Tasmania’s strategy are salient. Anyone wanting to stop mandatory censorship has to not only, as you put it, articulate their position in ways that engage the electorate, but in ways that will work on Ten News — and especially in ways that will make sense to and persuade people like Sue Mistos who, in this December 2009 piece in The Australian, wanted to “to protect her four children from the horrors on the web”.

    Ms Mistos, from Underdale in South Australia, uses an internet filter to block pornography and some chat rooms, giving her peace of mind when her children surf the web.

    “I think it’s good for them to know … they cannot access some of that stuff which they may be curious (about),” she said. “I am not very computer-literate myself, so therefore checking up on what they were looking up was a bit more difficult and I wanted the extra control.”

    She said there were similar concerns among other families that attended her church group.

    Ms Mistos probably doesn’t give a toss about grand issues such as freedom of speech. She knows the internet is full of evil — even though she doesn’t actually know anything about the internet. And in a way she’s right. Everything is on the internet, including Bad Things. What is the message for her?

    • It just galls me, Stilgherrian, when you imply that people venting their anger and frustration about an issue is fruitless — when your own site states that “all publication is a political act”. It’s the same old argument about the personal being political that I thought Western society learnt so long ago.

      If you’re angry at Conroy personally, why not attack him on Twitter or your blog? If you want substantive change and are prepared to go through the normal political avenues, why not do so? Why not do all of the above?

      I just don’t like the way that you seem to imply that the technological realms are somehow separate from the political realms, as if each has its elites and it’s impossible to burst through the glass ceiling. In reality there is no ceiling and it’s all intermixed.

  13. I find it necessary to look at some of your assumptions, Renai, because they reflect if not naivety then at least a simplistic reading of Stilgherrian’s article.

    1. “…my objection to Stilgherrian’s argument is that it contains an implicit statement that it is impossible for Australians to understand both technology and the shady politics which govern our somewhat democratic system of government. And therefore, that we should just give up and leave the politicians to their happy merry-go-round.”

    Saying “this belief and this argument are naive” is not the same as saying “Australians can’t understand both issues”.

    2. For all that I admire Mark Newton’s commitment and his ability to bring the debate to the public, his submission to the Senate did exhibit political naivety. It might be entertaining (particularly to journalists) to have a policy submission become a rant (your own description, Renai). But it degrades the value of the document as a policy submission.

    It might be dull to read all those submissions that couch their argument in “parliamentary language” – but to fall into abuse is to give the receiving committee good reason to ignore the submission entirely.

    Allowing the personal to overwhelm the political value of the submission can, at the very least, be described as naive.

    3. Another example of general political naivety among the filter’s opponents is to mistake noise for achievement.

    Getting columns written is one thing. But opponents to Internet censorship have, since the blacklist was proposed in 1999, changed no government policy, removed no ministers, and swung no seats. It’s naive to think that a decade of failure represents some kind of political achievement.

    4. “It has been Conroy’s off-the-cuff comments which have been most disturbing to Australia’s technology sector.”

    And it’s naive to believe that Australia’s technology sector is representative of the whole electorate – which (depressingly) gives no sign of noticing when Conroy misspeaks. If we turn a public molehill into an industry-specific mountain, and then complain when the rest of the community doesn’t notice the mountain, then are we not guilty of political naivety?

    Richard Chirgwin
    Depressed spectator to lost battles

    • … and your solution is?

      Join a political party against the filter and use that avenue? Stacks of people are doing that — it’s call the Pirate Party or the Greens.

      Write to your MP? Stacks of people are also doing that.

      Write to your newspaper? That happens constantly and the online forums of newspapers are filled with complaints against Conroy.

      I am tired of all this negativity. If you’re going to critique desperate people in a desperate situation (which the campaign against the filter most certainly is), then at least have the good grace to provide an alternative.

      • Renai,

        “If you’re going to critique desperate people in a desperate situation (which the campaign against the filter most certainly is), then at least have the good grace to provide an alternative.”

        When the debate is censorship, it’s depressing to have rhetorical devices such as this deployed. For what reason should I censor what I say about the campaign against censorship?

        If people stay “stuff it” and walk away from the debate, that is as much a failure as anything else.

        To cast this from the viewpoint of the inexpert and the ordinary:

        1. Geeks hate Conroy because he doesn’t understand the Internet.
        2. I don’t understand the Internet.
        3. Therefore, the geeks hate me as well.

        I don’t pretend that this is reasonable or rational – but people aren’t always reasonable and rational.

        A concrete and positive suggestion? Find a voice for the campaign that’s less confronting, less alienating, and abandon the patronising tone that assumes people to be idiots merely because the don’t understand the filter.

  14. Renai, I’m having a lot of trouble understanding where you’ve got this idea that I’m saying we should shut up and accept the status quo, or that I think people should not “speak out” on issues that concern them. Particularly as I said “It’s wonderful that people are getting involved in a political debate, any political debate”. You’re reading something into what I’ve written which simply isn’t there.

    All I’m asking is that the frustration, anger, energy — what you want to call it — is channelled in a way which is likely to deliver a result. Otherwise all that frustration, anger, energy etc is merely pissing in the wind.

    People need to direct their energy to more useful leverage points than calling for Conroy to be sacked, because unless something seriously changes in some way this is simply not going to happen. That’s nothing to do with being unable to call ministers to account. It’s everything to do with choosing smarter tactics.

    Yes, I am indeed saying that “people venting their anger and frustration about an issue is fruitless”, if the way in which that venting happens is poorly targeted. Having a whinge on Twitter, for example, is just such a waste of time. Chances are that the folks who follow you already agree with you. That’s why they follow you. How will this cause a local MP to change his or her views about Teh Filterz and take those concerns to Caucus? How will this cause the church group-going mother to change her views of Teh Filterz and, against the advice of her pastor, change her vote accordingly?

    Venting doesn’t give the government an exit strategy, to get from where they are now to the position you’d like them to have without looking like they’ve done a backflip. It’s just venting.

    “If you’re angry at Conroy personally, why not attack him on Twitter or your blog?” you ask. The answer to that is easy: Because it means the entirety of what you’re saying can then be written off as a personal attack. You can be selectively quoted and written off as someone with a grudge, and from then on will be ignored in the debate,

    • Yes, where could I have gotten that idea … could it be from statements like this?

      All I’m asking is that the frustration, anger, energy — what you want to call it — is channelled in a way which is likely to deliver a result. Otherwise all that frustration, anger, energy etc is merely pissing in the wind.

      People need to direct their energy to more useful leverage points than calling for Conroy to be sacked, because unless something seriously changes in some way this is simply not going to happen. That’s nothing to do with being unable to call ministers to account. It’s everything to do with choosing smarter tactics.

      In contrast to you, I feel that people expressing their views on Twitter is a direct example of democracy in action, and not fruitless at all. Politicians are increasingly using avenues such as Twitter as a direct means of testing the water of the electorate. It’s like talkback radio.

      And when a hashtag like #spill starts trending on the front page of Twitter.com globally and thousands upon thousands are involved in the discussion, I think it’s safe to say we can take the medium seriously as an avenue for examining issues.

  15. Renai, Stil, : can you guys take your handbags outside please? or let the other one have the last word? The bunfight is getting boring now and looks to be stuck on a loop. ;-)

  16. no shit. It just got stuck in a loop, but hopefully you broke that one. go tiger!

  17. I agree with Renai: we need positive suggestions. If we’re doing it wrong, how can we do it right? There’s quite enough disillusionment in the Australian electorate now without telling people they’re not getting anywhere.

    Criticism needs to be balanced with positive suggestions. The stereotypic “church mother” situation is a good example. When you tell this person about the ineffectiveness, cost and risk of the filter, you don’t just leave her with her assumptions torn down. You tell her how she can protect her family, using existing and effective tools. You give her information so she can make her own choices.

    So: how do we become more politically effective? I would remind you that GetUp’s participants (including me) did fund a television ad campaign (subsequently banned by Qantas on the flights containing politicians returning to parliament). Did you see the Censordyne ad? Do you think it was effective? Do we need to put out more ads, and if so where and how? What is a practical path towards political change?

  18. Glad you’re not teaching logic or didactics Richard.

    Renai wasn’t suggesting censoring yourself, but thinking about what you’re saying and providing an alternative, not just negativity. He was asking for constructive progressions, which has nothing to do with censorship.

    And as for your shallow attempt at logic, it fails for 2 obvious reasons:
    because it is not a proper syllogism (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syllogism#Everyday_syllogistic_mistakes)

    Geeks do not hate Conroy because he doesn’t understand the internet, they hate him because he is in charge of something he has little or no understanding of, doesn’t seek competent advisors about, and actively attacks people who do understand it, sometimes damaging the industry he means to represent, while demeaning the debate about what truly is important and needs attention.

    it’s OK to be a fuckwit, it’s not OK to be a fuckwit in charge of what you are a fuckwit about.

  19. Wheelyweb, I did not claim the syllogism to be reasonable or logical. It’s an example of peoples’ emotional reactions to public debates; nothing more. It’s not “a shallow attempt at logic”, it’s a deliberate example of an illogical response.

    People react illogically and emotionally, and in my opinion, this makes alienation and abuse a high-risk strategy. Opponents to the filter need to ingratiate themselves with the ordinary voter.

    Here is one small, concrete suggestion. Approach Ericsson, which conducts a long-running longitudinal study into consumer attitudes to technology. Find the people inside Ericsson who understand the data and look for ways in which their insights could inform the campaign. Then take those insights to someone who understands consumer marketing.

  20. Excellent: a positive suggestion. Who on Delimiter has contacts at Ericsson? Is s/he willing to do this?

    I’d also appreciate an answer to my questions above. ;)

    How can we further engage IT companies in Australia in this issue? The government/ACL disinformation campaign is deliberately frightening people about the use of technology. Is that what IT companies want? If not, what are they willing to do about it?

    Despite the effective Parental Control and other filtering software already available, very few users seem aware of it. Would retailers be willing to preload run-on-first-launch video tutorials on how to use the built-in software? Would they pay all or most of the cost of an associated running ad on TV (also pushing their product)? Would sellers of kiosk software or kiddy browsers be willing to advertize their own product (possibly in cooperation) at this opportune time? Would PC retailers like NextByte offer free demos for Parental Control setup? How about posters in shops, workplaces, schools? I know people have previously shown that they’re not interested in optional filtering, but that was before they were told about The Dangerous Internet.

    Although the disinformation campaign has been a negative influence on users, it has made computer access into an issue. The IT and educational sector need to capitalize on this opportunity, and help people become more independent (while emphasizing the positive aspects of their products).

    I also agree that we need to target the average user more. This means ads, or current affairs sessions, where we get ordinary users to say what they want to filter on the Net, then show them how they can already do that (often for free). This offers opportunities to compare with the ineffectiveness of the threatened mandatory filter.

    We need to dispel some of the stereotypes on this. Computer-savvy people aren’t necessarily patronizing or difficult to understand. Parents aren’t necessarily stupid. Christians aren’t necessarily supporting the ACL’s viewpoint. I say this as a computing teacher, mother, grandmother and Christian. ;)

  21. Apologies for misunderstanding your intentionally skewed syllogism Richard. I stand corrected. However I stand by the asserttion that people are going to side with the well informed “battler” fighting for truth, before they side with the pollie, as there’s a long history of those at the coal face knowing more than the decision makers and managers above them. Therefore I feel your proposed logical path won’t have as many adherents as you think

    Trib and others in the past have held the view, that I agree with, that people are as intelligent as your approach to them . If you treat them like intelligent adults and help them to the facts then you both benefit.

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