Why the language of #nocleanfeed dooms the movement to failure. **Updated**

With the Australian government seeking to push through their ‘clean feed’ legislation and effectively censor chunks of the internet from the public, an important fight over our rights as citizens has broken out taking the form of the #nocleanfeed movement.

A movement which suffers from a PR problem.

While the majority of the ‘internet savvy’ can wrap their heads around the lingo of #nocleanfeed, to a layperson, it would appear strange to be arguing that we want a ‘dirty’ feed. For this reason, the language of #nocleanfeed is unclear and does not serve the purpose of the movement. To succeed, the greater populace needs to get behind the idea, and to do that, we need language that they understand and can relate to.

A perfect example of this phenomenon comes from US political pollster Frank Luntz who when working with the republican party, nailed the language required to change support for what was the ‘estate tax’ (which a large % of the population supported, since they didn’t think taxing an ‘estate’ was such a bad idea) but when relabeling the estate tax to a “Death Tax’ (ie: you were taxed on your death..) it changed the support for the tax considerably as people realised this tax applied to them on their death, not some abstract concept of an ‘estate’.

This is what #nocleanfeed needs, the movement needs to engage with your ‘average’ voter and speak with them in their own language about how this will impact them in their daily lives. Pushing the idea of #nocleanfeed is too abstract a concept for these people and will not result in their support for the campaign.

My currently preferred choices for branding the campaign include #openinternet and #netneutrality, but these would require a wholesale reworking of all the efforts this far. Is the disruption worth it to change direction with the campaign? Maybe not, but I can’t see the movement succeeding in its current incarnation.

**Update** Some people are confusing my post as simply a call to change the hashtag and continue as we have been campaigning online. This is not my intent, fracturing the existing movement is counterproductive and would only be useful if an overwhelming number of people supported it.

What is necessary though, is the #nocleanfeed campaigners, when transferring their action offline, is a concerted effort to frame the language  in a way that appeals to Joe Public, saying #nocleanfeed to a these people conjures up the following:

1) Something that won’t affect their browsing, because they are ‘not paedophiles’
2) Something that will protect the children

But as we all know, this isn’t the case. Framing the issue instead as something (for example) that will affect their download speeds for legitimate sites, and due to errors in the system see their favorite overseas sites ‘accidentally placed on the list (as with that Dentist in QLD) is needed to communicate the everyday impact this will have on *everyone*.

I also really like the approach in the comments by @nicwalmsley below, so I’ve cut and paste his comment here to highlight his point.

Everyone still seems focused on the internal process within the various internet-based movements that oppose the government’s censorship policy. We need to forget that, and move onto the details of how we can build this into a popular civil rights movement.

Forget the internet angle – it doesn’t matter which form of communication is censored, it is the censorship that is the issue; the average person doesn’t care if the net is a bit slower; just drop the whole “free internet thing” – it’s not the point

Some censorship is right and proper and is widely supported – you can’t just say “no censorship” because it goes against hundreds of years of political philosophy and practice; don’t get bogged down in the technicalities of whether the government can or cannot block bad porn, just say “yes it is great you are trying to block that stuff, we all agree with it, but that is not the problem with your plan”

Focus on the fundamental problem with the Government’s plan – they are going to open the door to banning political content! Every conversation should quickly drift you, “yeah, but they are gonna ban political stuff like euthanasia and abortion and who the hell knows what else – you might disagree with it, but we don’t need to ban that stuff?”

We need the Liberal party to come on board. Sorry but they are the opposition and so if they say “sure” to the Govt then we have lost before the whistle’s even blown, but if the Libs see a sensible civil movement building up against this, and they can see that there are weak points in the Government plan (ie, political censorship), then they will do what oppositions do – seek amendments and frustrate the government’s agenda.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the idea of banning discussion of criminal activity, because it presupposes that the law will never change. If it is black and white, sure, but if it is conceivable that the law could change, then we should never accept a prohibition on discussing it.

What about fiction: are they going to ban a story about abortion or euthanasia or drug taking?

So it should be “No to Political Censorship in Australia” and the main argument we should be driving is, you can try and block bad porn and terrorism, great, but don’t start banning political stuff because there’s no saying where that will lead.

I still think the language used online needs to change, but doing so in a fractured way is only going to hurt the #nocleanfeed movement. @DarkStarSword created Twibbons for #netneutrality and #openinternet that you can use if you like. However I would like to see a phased transition to something like #openinternet with both terms being used for a time to see if #openinternet gains traction. But most importantly, what I want you to take away from this post, is that preaching to the converted isn’t the answer, we need to make noise in spaces other than Facebook and Twitter, that will reach the average voter in language that is appropriate for them, to create a groundswell of support sufficient to convince the Liberal Party and Independents that the clean feed is a bad idea.

56 thoughts on “Why the language of #nocleanfeed dooms the movement to failure. **Updated**”

  1. Agree we need new terminology here. Net neutrality brings its own baggage which would require further clarification – but I don’t mind the idea of #openinternet or #openweb. But what I’d really like to see is a commoncraft style video explaining why the filter is a bad idea. Hmmm …

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I think it is worth reworking efforts to #openinternet. Maybe you should update your tags for this post {;-)

    Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate–The Essential Guide for Progressives (George Lakoff, 2004) was a real eye-opener to how framing can be used and abused.

  3. I’d love to see a simple video made, too, explaining why the filter isn’t positive. I think also advising simple ways to protest this – like writing to an MP is also useful. If this is passed, will writing to an MP still help? Where in the legislative process is the cleanfeed?

  4. If you’re discussing the general “layperson”, you need to also determine what the new terms mean to them… What is open internet? What makes it open? (as an open source developer, I really don’t need an answer to that one!!) Does that mean like we open a door and things can get in or out – does an open internet mean that the bad can get in? Things along these lines…

    I’m really not sure what a better option may be (#nocensorship doesn’t cover it well enough, #dontfencemein is too long and spindly, non-informative and more than a little cheesey). I’m just not entirely convinced that – to the layperson – #openinternet or #netneutrality are a better choice…

    I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, though

  5. I ask non techies about this as often as the opportunity arises to try and get an idea of public opinion of the issue at the moment. Currently, major news outlets are pushing the child porn aspect and completely ignoring the issue of secret blacklists which contain more than just child porn websites. This means of the people I’ve spoken to, their opinion based on media coverage thus far is it’s a system to stop child porn on the internet and of course only twisted perverts wouldn’t want to see this thing go through!

    Anyway, I agree that language needs to be used appropriately when “marketing” the problem of this legislation to a layperson. I find the simplest and most effective method has been labelling the thing “Internet Censorship like they have in China and Saudi Arabia”. Of course, half the people then label me alarmist and say it’ll never be a problem. My response is “Why take the risk when there are more effective ways to spend millions combating child porn?”

    To everybody who interpreted this blog post as “okay time to change our hash tags”. Guess what? A layperson doesn’t even know what #nocleanfeed #nointernetfilter #ilovesubway means, they see a # and assume it’s computer code or something. Not that they use twitter, blogs and the like in the first place. Think bigger guys.

  6. This point of semantics is interesting and the reference in the comments to George Lakoff’s book is really good.
    If you follow this thread of thought, you can certainly argue that the word “clean” in a political context invokes more pleasantville and some form of nasty “cleansing”, which took place in the Balkans in the 1990’s, rather than pristine and innocent intent…
    So the cause may not be that doomed after all?

  7. i think what Nathan says above is spot on.
    the majority of people we need to voice their opinion on this issue, and thus get in their heads in the first place, don’t read blogs or twitter or “any of that shit”.

    that’s not to say a re-branding of this issue isn’t necessary, i think the reasoning of your argument is correct, NoCleanFeed was reactionary & named by techies.

    but a simple rebranding will do no more than the current brand.

    what’s needed is a thorough “grass roots” (hate that term, but it is what it is) effort to get The Message out to everyone we can, and those people are largely non-techies who probably wouldn’t even realise if their internet connection did slow down or got a 404 when searching for something that’s been blacklisted. sorry to say it, but a new-media focused effort isn’t going to cut it.

  8. Totally agree with change of tag – call a spade a spade. Abstraction and jargon are death to good commuications, something too easily ignored by the net savvy.

  9. I like #nocensorship – it’s a firm, clear statement about what we want.

    But I’m not *that* fussed about the hashtag. What’s really important is when we talk about this to friends, family or anyone else we’re trying to convince, we call the government’s plan “censorship”. Not “filtering” or some other watered-down word that buys into the idea that the government is doing something good.

  10. I agree #nocleanfeed is confusing.

    I vote for #freethenet (sounds like “free tibet”) which leads naturally to the question “free the net from what”? To this you can just answer “censorship” and you’ve just started a dialogue.

    This works for hashtags, bumperstickers, door stops, tshirts and general conversations with your friends.

    And although I lurve all things “open”…”free” is just more emotive!

  11. I always thought #cleanfeed was the best tag for this, I was confused when I first heard #nocleanfeed. I *want* a clean feed – one that is pure and untainted, with no meddling fingers filtering bits out.

    #freethenet sounds very good though. Let’s #freethenet from the grasp of the government bureaucrats! #savethenet would also work well, because we will lose part of it if it gets filtered out.

  12. Bang on Dave, it needs to be framed a lot better. Not sure the #openinternet works for the masses but there’s a lot of PR/Marketing talent against this that can contribute

  13. #freenet feels like the simplest, clearest summation. Free from censorship and filtering. Freedom is what this is all about.

  14. I prefer #nocensorship. However, I understand the momentum that has been built up behind #nocleanfeed and I’ll use both where possible.

    But our cause is lost if we think it is going to be won or lost via a hashtag or anything else on the internet. As you pointed out, Dave, the main game is “laypersons”, Mums and Dads, uncles, aunts and grandparents. These folks currently think a “clean feed” is a good idea. They are not particularly computer-literate, but they are in the majority. Arguments need to be framed in terms these folks understand.

    Here’s an example: http://mike.brisgeek.com/2009/03/05/87-percent/

    And finally, arguments need to be delivered via methods that will reach these folks; one on one discussions, public meetings, print media and television, doorknocking, letterboxing; anything BUT online. And especially NOT GetUP!’s online ads.

    @MikeFitzAU

  15. Agreed.

    Cog. Psych. Linguists (Lakoff, Pinker, etc) point out the power of the microcontent (words and soundbites) in framing perception and shaping opinion.

    #nocleanfeed can only work against us.

    Perhaps a dual tag, transitioning over a few days to #openinternet would be the best approach?

  16. I agree with the general thrust of the original post here, but I really don’t see it bearing out in practice (yet).

    Everyone still seems focused on the internal process within the various internet-based movements that oppose the government’s censorship policy. We need to forget that, and move onto the details of how we can build this into a popular civil rights movement.

    Forget the internet angle – it doesn’t matter which form of communication is censored, it is the censorship that is the issue; the average person doesn’t care if the net is a bit slower; just drop the whole “free internet thing” – it’s not the point

    Some censorship is right and proper and is widely supported – you can’t just say “no censorship” because it goes against hundreds of years of political philosophy and practice; don’t get bogged down in the technicalities of whether the government can or cannot block bad porn, just say “yes it is great you are trying to block that stuff, we all agree with it, but that is not the problem with your plan”

    Focus on the fundamental problem with the Government’s plan – they are going to open the door to banning political content! Every conversation should quickly drift you, “yeah, but they are gonna ban political stuff like euthanasia and abortion and who the hell knows what else – you might disagree with it, but we don’t need to ban that stuff?”

    We need the Liberal party to come on board. Sorry but they are the opposition and so if they say “sure” to the Govt then we have lost before the whistle’s even blown, but if the Libs see a sensible civil movement building up against this, and they can see that there are weak points in the Government plan (ie, political censorship), then they will do what oppositions do – seek amendments and frustrate the government’s agenda.

    There is something fundamentally wrong with the idea of banning discussion of criminal activity, because it presupposes that the law will never change. If it is black and white, sure, but if it is conceivable that the law could change, then we should never accept a prohibition on discussing it.

    What about fiction: are they going to ban a story about abortion or euthanasia or drug taking?

    So it should be “No to Political Censorship in Australia” and the main argument we should be driving is, you can try and block bad porn and terrorism, great, but don’t start banning political stuff because there’s no saying where that will lead.

    Thanks for the forum and good luck.

  17. Following on from Will, how about just #OpenNetAU, or cut out the double N #openetau (all lower #opennetau scans a little clumsy…) Hmm yeah tricky one. Agree with the proposition in your article, though. The language is the important thing.

  18. David, you’re right that the pro-censorship lobby is controlling the language and thus winning the argument, but it doesn’t seem like your readers have understood the point.

    While we geekily debate the merits of which hashtags to shout at each other in the echo chamber, the battle is being lost out there in the real world.

    Unless you can talk to Labor in the only language it understands – votes, not hashtags – you’re wasting your breath.

  19. @Josh Mehlman Hashtags are branding.

    Yeah, it’s geeky to discuss the merits of different hashtags for twitter – but the campaign overall needs to have its language and message down pat, and that will flow from the hashtag / brand. That’s why the discussion on the merits of #nocleanfeed / #openinternet / #openinternetAU / othertag matters.

  20. On the broader problem of public support, here are the two opposite ways to frame a poll question:

    1. Do you think parents should have tools to protect kids from paedophiles and extreme pornography on the Internet?

    2. Do you think the government should have a secret blacklist to censor websites, including political content?

    2a. Should millions of dollars be taken away from police efforts to catch paedophiles in order to pay for forcing all Australian ISPs to implement the secret government blacklist?

    The first framing is similar to the question asked in the survey Clive Hamilton likes to quote. It carefully avoids mentioning that the current proposal is mandatory for all, rather than
    optional and for children. I would say
    YES to that question, so it’s unsurprising that it gets high AGREE scores.

    I think the fact that the blacklist will be secret, unlike all other censorship in Australia, is the key.

  21. Why don’t we call it the “free speech filter”?

    “The Government wants to build a system that will stop you from reading any website they don’t like. It’s censorship and it needs to stop. Don’t let Kevin Rudd build the Free Speech Filter.”

  22. I think the main problem with the “good fight” against ISP-level filtering is most people do not care.

    Conroy’s crusade has been given it’s fair share of negative media attention, but all that comes across is a vocal minority (comparatively to total population) who understand what it is and means.

    A news story will pop up in your medium of choice every now and then describing the evils of the proposed filter, yet it’s done little to rock the boat.

    While a rebranding akin to the infamous Death Tax in the US would give it a decent shove in the right direction, I highly doubt anyone’s going to coin a term that will polarise the Australian population to the same extent.

    In reality I think the ISP-level filtering debacle will fizzle out, simply due to the current political timeline. With all the shenanigans over the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) there’s a nagging threat of a double dissolution election, and Rudd is going to have to call an election for 2010 anyway.

    That means that the filter would have to be rushed through to be up and running before an election, and I highly doubt Labour is stupid enough to do that. Most likely it will be chucked on the scrapheap during the “Kevin Again” campaign and we won’t have to worry about it.

    As an interesting aside, Conroy isn’t an idiot. I would be the first to give him flack over the internet filtering vomit, but he isn’t as ignorant about the industry like his predecessor, Clueless Coonan.

    I still strongly believe that Conroy is being forced to toe the party line on this one, which is part of a deal with the family first nutcase in the senate, whom the ALP is forced to make deals with to get anything done.

    Kind of makes me hope for a Labour-controlled senate next year, or at least with the balance firmly controlled by the greens so most bills are passed with a token million or two for the environment, instead of funding for futility.

  23. I just think we should all not pay our ISP that month, I know it’s not technically the ISPs fault… but we don’t pay the government. “Dear ISP, due to the lower level of service you provided this month, I will not be paying you.” If we all did it, it would hurt.

  24. At the rallies earlier this year, I spent time talking to passers-by.

    They didn’t know what a ‘feed’ was, let alone why we didn’t want it clean. So yes, we have to communicate effectively. People know what the internet is (well, except the old guy next door to me) and they know what censorship is. They don’t necessarily see why we have a problem with it. We have to be able to say that clearly and briefly.

    Overall, I think we need to be able to communicate amongst ourselves e.g. on Twitter, where #nocleanfeed works well, and we need a more general communication strategy. Both of these.

    By the way – this is surely the pot calling the kettle black – a blog called “pointless really” going on about language doomed to failure 😉

    See you at the meeting.

  25. Couldn’t agree more. How about ‘Meek Feed’, ‘Weak Feed’, ‘Censored Feed’ or, my favourite, ‘Subversion-Proof Fence’ (Aussie version of Great Firewall of China).

  26. @Beaney

    hi,

    in germany we’ve had a similar situation 6 month ago.

    there is a little animation-video (save your freedom”

    http://www.rettedeinefreiheit.de/

    an english version is not (jet) finished, sorry, but you should be able to get the message.

    “Video herunterladen” is the “download that video” link.

    the same guy did “du bist terrorist” (you are a terrorist, too) – engl. subs here:

    this is about govermental data retention

    resist!

  27. You’re all turning into the kind of people who design flyers for their new business before they have a product.

    The message isn’t ‘nocleanfeed’ that’s just the hashtag. A device which nobody cares about except those who already get it.

    The message needs to appeal to Joe average and his non-technical auntie Jude. The message needs to hijack Conroy’s misuse of terminology.

    What will really PROTECT CHILDREN is an optional smut-free feed, for parents not a mandatory RC-blocker.

    What will really CATCH CRIMINALS and STOP CHILD PORN is throwing these millions of dollars into investigations and police action.

    We all want these things, but so far everything we do is in oppsition to conroy’s message. Instead we need to get on board with his language, but make it abundantly clear that his offering will do the opposite.

    WE are the champions of childrens rights, lower Internet crime and harsher penalties for child exploitation. WE are the protectors of our nation’s future, and their freedom of expression, religion and orientation, Conroy is the one misusing the message so WE need to take it.

    Let’s not make it just about censorship, let’s make it about protecting our kids properly because that’s what it comes down to.

    When that is the product, the marketing is easy.

  28. There are three different issues here
    – speed, which already has gotten a lot of people on board, and
    – censorship, which already has gotten a lot of people on board, and
    – monitoring, which hasn’t had much airtime yet.

    Even if the government is kind enough to let my packets through, if they want to read them, I want them to have to get a search warrant first.

    We want something that will appeal to everyone. And preferably short.

    #nowebspy is short, but doesn’t really explain itself.

    #nowebcleansing is not short, but at least it gets the right emotional response.

    #nowebcensorship is better than #nocensorship.

    #netneutrality already has another meaning

    @ Milorad Ivovic : you have a point. Conroy’s filter will impact ordinary people, and not stop the criminals. We need to get that point across somehow.

  29. What about #noSmutFence or #noSmutProofFence? Because that’s what this is supposed to be. And it’s going to work about as well as the rabbit proof fence. And it’s going to be far more expensive.

  30. Change it and fast. Even web folk have no idea what ncf is, and it is z weak statement.

    Make it a rebuttal – “no xxx xxxx” not a positive

    hit them at their strong point – by emphasizing that child porn and sex crime will rise not fall

    hit Conroy and more importantly his political party. Go after people that matter

    get a decent website to provide imformation and coordination

    frame the debate how you want to, not how they do

    get into the msm with compelling speakers

    have leaders and get behind them

    get really engaged in the official government processes.

    These are some random lessons from US Politics and NZ’s #blackout campaign

  31. “they” want to filter “child porn”

    avoid using “child porn”

    “porn” implicates that both partners want to sex.

    avoid using “abuse”

    can u “use” children?

    “violence” happens in real life

    what “they” mean is “digital documents that show (sexual) violence against children”

    don’t use the terms of the cencors.

  32. I went to the Stop Internet Censorship meeting yesterday night in Brisbane (over 80 people there) and the consensus seemed to be that we do need to address the issue in the terms that the government is framing it, making the internet safer. A fair few above agree too. This is the only forum I know of that has open comments for people to put down ideas, so David I hope you don’t feel like I am hijacking your site… but here is a blurb I wrote, with the feeling of last night’s meeting in mind. I have to say it is a draft thing, you would want to do a bit more fact checking and maybe get a legal opinion before you started letterbox dropping so to say. Would love to see other people’s re-writes:

    Australia’s new censorship laws: don’t be fooled by Conroy’s Con

    The Federal Government plans to introduce new censorship laws into the Australian Parliament in 2010. The Minister behind the proposal, Senator Conroy, says the new laws will better protect children from inappropriate material on the internet. It’s a worthy aim, but unfortunately Senator Conroy’s pronouncements are not backed up by the facts.

    The pros and cons of Senator Conroy’s new censorship laws

    Conroy’s Internet Censorship will not stop inappropriate material on the internet – the Federal Government’s own report showed that their internet censorship technology can be easily bypassed.

    Conroy’s Internet Censorship will not help solve other major problems found on the internet, like bullying, identity theft, scam artists and impersonators.

    Conroy’s Internet Censorship will let the government say it is trying to make the internet safe, but in reality it would just give parents a false sense of security and let the Government off the hook.

    Conroy’s Internet Censorship could lead to more and more political material being banned. It is not the role of the Government to decide what political material can or cannot be seen by Australian adults, but Senator Conroy is taking us in that direction more than any previous Government.

    What the Government should be doing

    Instead of paying for expensive technology to censor the internet, the Federal Government should be boosting funding for law enforcement agencies to track down internet criminals.

    They should be funding new education programs to teach children how to protect themselves on the internet.

    And by making their internet censorship technology an optional program that families can chose to use or not to use, it could easily avoid the concern of inappropriate political censorship.

    So what’s next?

    There is a widespread movement of everyday Australians trying to get the Government to change it’s approach to censorship. If you would like to find out more, just get online and search for “Stop Australian Censorship”.

    We won’t be hard to find: unlike the Government, we have nothing to hide.

    What do people think?

  33. oh, btw that was Andrew Bartlet’s suggestion “Conroy’s Con” if you are not aware, i just went with it.

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  37. I think scare tactics could be useful. “Censorship is a slippery slope” with a suggestion of what extreme censorship could mean. Or a spin on the old line about being a little bit pregnant. You can’t have a little bit of censorship.

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