An open letter to Senator Stephen Conroy from a concerned parent!

An open letter to Senator Stephen Conroy from a concerned parent!

Thank you Stephen Conroy! Thank you so much for keeping my family safe. By announcing that your new internet filter is a measure “to improve the safety of the internet for families”, I feel reassured that you only have my, and my daughter’s, best interests at heart.

But, I just have one question – I didn’t know my family was at risk from the internet! I mean, my household has been connected to the web at increasingly fast speeds for the last ten years and my daughter has yet to be damaged in any way. Yet you say my child could be exposed to illegal sites featuring child porn, sexual violence and criminal instruction. Bloody hell! My daughter and I must have been incredibly lucky not to stumble across any of these sites up to now, especially if they are so commonly accessed by the average home user – as they must be for you to invest so much time, effort and money in this no doubt wonderful safeguard.

It’s strange though. I was under the impression that Google and the other search engines filtered out such illegal websites from their search results, making it incredibly hard for us regular people to discover them by mistake. Instead of accidentally coming across a dodgy site in a search engine, people must be choosing to go there, so this filter is designed to target this deliberate behaviour. That would mean you are concerned my daughter may learn the specific url of such a ‘dangerous’ website and willingly type it in. Wow! My daughter isn’t as well brought up as I thought she was! Thanks for pointing out how terrible a father I’ve been by not teaching her the basic values of our society. I bow to your superior experience of what goes on in my house and will immediately report myself to DOCS.

But wait – according to your press release, this is about more than just child porn and illegal websites; the filter will apparently apply to all ‘Restricted Classification’ material. Sure, that includes all those nasty bestiality, kiddie porn and illegal sites of one shade or another, but there are other reasons why a site might be refused classification. And, according to you, the “RC Content list will be compiled through a public complaints mechanism.” Fantastic! If I merely don’t like something, or am offended, I can complain and may end up getting the entire site banned! I’m sure the mechanism will require more than one complaint and would presumably have a review system similar to other complaints bodies, but some lobby groups are pretty good at getting heard if something offends their own world view. I bet there are a few groups already angling to submit complaints against atheist sites, political sites, or any ‘controversial’ topic that offends their sensibilities by merely existing and posing an alternative viewpoint. RC already applies to a website discussing euthanasia, a community organisation site advising drug users how to stay safe and a site for safe discussion of young gays struggling to cope with their sexuality, among others. If these sites are deemed objectionable or controversial enough to be refused classification – illegality is not the only target here. Posing awkward questions, providing unpopular information or contradicting current political ideologies can cause the filter to slam down.

That’s great. at least I know my daughter won’t be exposed to content that challenges the safe world view you would like us to have. Better she is not allowed to think too deeply about such topics as how society deals with old age and painful illness. Better she never learns how not to catch HIV should she ever take up drugs. Better she try her hardest not to turn out gay. It just raises too many difficult questions regarding current government policy. We know politicians don’t like us thinking too hard about the more difficult topics as it makes us demand better answers from you and – depending on your responses – may make us less likely to vote for you in future.

As to those other sites that somehow wind up on the blacklist when it was leaked earlier in the year – you know, the bus companies, dentist and other legal businesses that found themselves blocked with no explanation why – I’m sure everything was done correctly. If it’s on the list, I’ll just assume that the dentist was in reality a white slave trader and the bus companies trafficking in cocaine. There has to be a legitimate reason why these otherwise legal websites appeared on the blacklist if you’ve got such a foolproof ‘mechanism’ in place. Right?

Then again, you’ve not said how this “public complaints mechanism” will work, so I’m not sure. And neither is anyone else. Tell you what – how about a button we can install on our web browser tool bars. We can call it the “Ban Button”. Clicking the button when you’re on a website automatically submits the site to ACMA (the Australian Communications and Media Authority). It can work like Digg or Tweetmeme – if a page gets enough hits on the Ban Button, it goes on the RC list! Now there’s a funky Web 2.0 social media thingy style idea that will get you props with the kids and the geek crowd! They love their social media voting buttons!

So thanks Senator Conroy. I can send my daughter to her room now without any fears that she’ll be on the internet plotting the overthrow of the government or chatting to perverted old men in a chatroom.

What? You mean the filter won’t prevent chatroom conversations? She can still be exposed to paedophiles grooming teenagers in social networks and messenging services? You say the filter won’t prevent people spreading illegal content through BitTorrent or other file sharing services? You say we’ll be blocked from sites I don’t think we’ve ever accessed – at the cost of other legal sites getting caught in the web – while the crims and perverts still get to do what they do unhindered?

Well, I guess I may need to take some other action then if I wish my daughter to be safe. Like – oh I don’t know – teaching my daughter how to use the internet, setting acceptable limits and behaviours, helping her to think for herself and understand right from wrong, and – crucially – knowing what she is doing when she is online. Maybe I can call this revolutionary strategy something catchy, like… I know! Parenting!

Image credit