Out, Damn Dot Com!


"Trying to control the intent, man," he told me through his nimbus of bong smoke. "Trying to control the internet is like, er, trapping time in a bottle."

To pay heed to such persons is unwise. First, we must be chary of any statement that includes the lyrics of Jim Croce as a reference point. Second, the opinions of any person who (a) lists HTML as a second language on census forms and (b) smells exactly like a share house sofa, should be discounted out of hand.

I had to admit though, he did have a point. This was 1999 after all, and we were sitting on posh beanbags bought with venture capital at a chic but pointless dot com. In 1999 I did not believe that the internet, nor the bubble economy which encased it in that era, could be held in check.

Months after this conversation, the NASDAQ pierced the membrane of our well-funded idyll and the venture capitalists came and took away our beanbags. The internet, it seemed, could be held in financial check. I’m still not sure, however, that the many lawless cultures of the internet can ever be successfully contained.

Nonetheless, our Broadband PM is attempting to do just that. As you’ve no doubt read, Kevin 2.0 has asked his bestest techs to provide a blacklist of unsuitable sites by means of a British nanny called CleanFeed. When this data is compiled, filters will provide wholesome content to users nationwide. In short, the Rudd Government is aiming to provide a World Wide Web safe from harm.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy had a zappy zinger prepared in case those anti-censorship-types questioned Labor’s plan: "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree."

The complex issue of free speech and Conroy’s diminution of it down to a sound-bite aside, the question remained: how in blazes will the Government find a filter that cannot be upturned by a twelve-year-old of moderate intelligence?

Hours after the announcement, Australian press found that CleanFeed was not, in fact, impermeable. According to august experts, both providers and consumers of muck could find a way around the filter. Further, it seemed the Smut Sieve would slow our brave new broadband nation down to the pace of, say, policy becoming verity.

Conroy’s predecessor Helen Coonan is hardly esteemed as one of history’s free-thinking champs. Yet even she dismissed such safeguards as bothersome, expensive and sluggish. Conroy, presumably, is not a simpleton. Doubtless, he had access to the same expertise as Coonan. Nonetheless, he’s elected to make an elaborate anti-filth gesture.

The Government has been quite butch about plans to save time in a bottle through its use of CleanFeed. Conroy used the announcement as an opportunity to manfully condemn child pornography.

Condemning child pornography, as you know, is a popular political sport. No one of sound mind will argue that there is a place in the visual culture for this malevolent stuff. And only a few foolhardy souls will rise to stifle any public effort to inhibit its emergence.

In the meantime, we’re lumbered with a digital albatross that does little but hinder our speed. Heavens. I’m trying not to read this as a powerful metaphor.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.