“Clive Hamilton, you’re really starting to shit me!”

Photograph of Clive Hamilton

Well, he is! As part of The Australian‘s “super blog” on Senator Conroy’s Rabbit-Proof Firewall plans, Clive Hamilton has remixed his favourite old party piece. This time his rant is entitled Web doesn’t belong to net libertarians. Have a look. It’s a giggle.

OK, back? Cool.

Now I’ve dismantled most of Hamilton’s logical fallacies, baseless slurs and misinformation before, here and over at Crikey. Still, if Clive wants to sing the same old tune I’m happy to hum along one more time…

Clive, you started by saying, “Here is the kind of situation the Government’s proposed internet filter is aimed at,” and then provide a detailed description of an unsupervised schoolboy looking for porn.

Is it?

I thought it was now about filtering the ACMA blacklist, and only the blacklist. At least that’s what Senator Conroy’s saying. Maybe you and he ought to catch up over a cuppa and get your story straight?

I wrote a lengthy comment for The Australian, but it has yet to get past the moderators. Here it is, with added linkage.

I see that Clive Hamilton is running exactly the same talking points as Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby. Is this a coincidence?

I see that he still doesn’t point to any social research other than the solitary study he commissioned himself back in 2003, just after he declared the internet was “primarily” for pornography.

I see that he’s still constructing straw men called “extreme libertarians” in an attempt to trigger all the scary extremist-terrorist-death-in-the-dark buttons in our minds, in the hope that we’ll stop thinking rationally.

He has still to point to a single person who has ever said that “people (including children) should be able to view whatever they like”. Maybe some have said “adults should be able to view legal material without government interference”. Maybe some have even said it’s the parents’ job to supervise their children — actually I think that point’s been made many times.

I see that he still misrepresents the EFA’s statements, perhaps forgetting that those statements, too, are on the internet for all to read.

I see that he still trundles out the furphy that “we have a censorship system governing films, television and magazines” while failing to mention that we also already have a system for the internet too — one which is remarkably like that for television, in fact, except that it’s secret, unaccountable, and permits even less to be seen without proving your age (e.g. MA15+ material) than can shown on network TV.

I see that he still fails to explain why the internet should be reduced to a suitable-for-children level for everyone, secretly, even if they’re adults with no children, when concerned or lazy parents can already avail themselves of a myriad of filtering tools for their own PCs or join one of the 13 ISPs already providing content-filtered internet access under the IIA’s Family-Friendly ISP program.

I also see that he’s still criticising GetUp! for cherry-picking numbers from the Phase 1 trials but does exactly the same himself. I believe that’s called hypocrisy. The filter he points to which “only” degraded performance by 2% was so bad at correctly classifying material that it’d be next to useless in the real world. But it’s irrelevant, as the lab set-up for those trials bore little relationship to the network infrastructure and traffic load of a real ISP, and bears little relationship to what’s about to be trialled in Phase 2.

And he still fails to explain why we should pour $44 million into an ill-defined IT project which meant taking away $2.8 million from the AFP’s OCSET team — you know, the men and women who actually do the dirty work of catching child abusers.

“Scare-mongering does not get more blatant than this,” says Hamilton. Actually, it does. It happens when someone spends five paragraphs describing some lurid scenario involving a schoolboy and then screeches about imaginary extremists.

Enough indeed, Hamilton. It’s time to move beyond this oft-repeated performance and catch up with the rest of the discussion.

Since Clive likes repetitive refrains, here’s a reprise of one of my faves…

Hamilton may think he’s taking the moral path, but he’s wrong. He’s behaving unethically. He’s being a hypocrite. In my view that’s truly filthy.

18 Replies to ““Clive Hamilton, you’re really starting to shit me!””

  1. These kinds of arguments were the ones that the Coalition of the Willing used to justify teh War on Terror and the invasion of Saddamsville. “Where were those pesky weapons of mass destruction?” read (child pornographers… insert who you like…) Very scary and worthy of the breadth of ridicule and opposition that is being mounted by writers like you. Highly appreciated.

  2. @anthony and @Colin Campbell: Thank you for your comments, gentlemen. Appreciated.

    I simply don’t understand it. Clive Hamilton is capable of writing articles like today’s Crikey piece Fires spark a new front in the culture wars, in which he systematically dismantles the dodgy rhetoric of the anti-environmentalists. Yet when it comes to sex, he resorts to exactly that dodgy rhetoric. He lumps a variety of well-within-normal-range sexual activities in with the sickest he can imagine as part of his scare story — and then goes on for five full paragraphs. It can’t be merely titillation to rope in the readers, can it? There’s just got to be something else going on here.

  3. I’ll be very curious to see if Clive shows his face at the filtering workshop. I doubt it, though. It’s easier to just construct strawmen of your own devising than engage in reasoned debate.

    The really sad thing is that in the past he’s had some interesting things to say about a variety of issues. Articles like this really devalue everything he’s written. If he’s this non-rational and clearly misinformed on this subject[*], how can I take anything he says at face value, without sitting down and spending time checking what else he has wrong.

    [*] This is of course assuming he’s not knowingly arguing in bad faith. I haven’t seen any reason to believe so, but this latest piece of ranting has me seriously wondering.

  4. It seems Australian IT doesn’t want my comment, so I reproduce it here for Stilgherrian readers:

    The Net may not belong to libertarians. But it doesn’t belong to scaremongering totalitarians like Clive Hamilton either. The key phrase in Mr. Hamilton’s ludicrous slippery slope argument is this:

    He types in a search for, say, ‘sex pictures’.

    In other words, the hypothetical boy got exactly what he asked for. As Trent points out, Mr. Hamilton’s example shows a complete disregard for the responsibilities of parents and individual moral responsibility. The web is an encyclopaedic resource — do we supervise children whilst they flick through the pages, or just tear out the bits we don’t agree with in case they get hold of it when we aren’t looking?

    I find it revealing that despite the unquestionable moral evil of the examples cited by Mr. Hamilton, very few (with the exception of bestiality) are illegal under Australian law. Despite his protestations, what he is in effect asking for is a double standard, with the Internet being more tightly restricted than other equivalent media.

    Software already exists to allow parents to regulate what their children can access on the Internet, and comes pre-loaded on many modern operating systems. These systems aren’t infallible, but neither are our society’s precautions to prevent pornographic magazines or films falling into the hands of minors. What Mr. Hamilton is effectively asking is that we ban all media not rated G.

    Whether he understands this is another matter — he certainly doesn’t seem to understand how the Internet works, as evinced by this inane comment:

    …we have laws banning Australian ISPs from hosting the kinds of pornographic imagery I have described above, which all come from overseas sites…

    Internet Service Providers, of course, do not ‘host’ anything. The imagery in question, is hosted on the aforementioned “overseas” sites. ISPs are utility providers. They exist to deliver access to the Internet, which is an international network. The filtering system Mr. Hamilton is describing is a secret list of sites which are surreptitiously INTERCEPTED and made unavailable when requested by the Australian user. A “page not found” error message will be displayed, giving the impression the content does not exist. This is supposedly to prevent owners of illegal sites realising they are being blocked and simply switching to another host. However, because the list of blocked sites is kept secret (for the same reason) there is absolutely no accountability and nothing at all to prevent these crypto-government organisations censoring anything they want.

    Mr. Hamilton would no doubt accuse me of ‘scare-mongering’ for this, but the fact is it’s already begun. In the UK the Internet Watch Foundation caused uproar recently when it banned, not just an image, but an entire article on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, in the process accidentally blocking the entire country from editing the site. When Wikipedia produced an article on the controversy (without the offending image) they blocked that, too. The fact that the IWF felt enabled not just to censor the Internet, but censor all reference to their censorship, should give pause to anyone seeking to promote such a scheme in Australia.

    To restate: Ample software solutions exist to enable individual families to restrict what their children can do online. Anything else is ultimately destructive to free speech and the liberty of the Australian citizen.

  5. @anthony: But is Hamilton arguing in good faith? He claims to be a “public intellectual”, and yet commits egregious errors of fact and logic. Given how public this debate has been he seems, oddly, either unaware of the copious material which systematically dismantles his “argument” or unwilling to address it. The only research he cites is the one report he himself commissioned and which has not been subjected to peer review — which I understand to be a basic requirement for gaining academic respectability.

    If Hamilton were merely ignorant or incompetent, that would seriously undermine his position. You’d have to wonder how he could hold down an academic position. Yet he appears to be neither of those things, as his well-researched and widely-acclaimed writings in other fields demonstrate.

    He decries “the extreme libertarians [sic] and ISP executives who dominate the debate”, and yet it’s clear that those participating at the deepest level are neither of those things. He would seem to be demanding a “broader” debate, and yet isn’t “debating” himself. He merely re-works the same missive, pronouncing it from the masthead of The Australian and ABC News and Crikey, and then ignoring the responses.

    It’s a very old-fashioned way of doing business. Wrap yourself in the trappings of authority — an academic title, a respected media masthead — and make Pronouncements. In this environment he’d feel in control, and it’s not for nothing that Bronwen Clune calls the industrial-age media control media. Hamilton would doubtless fear being in an open forum because he wouldn’t be in control.


    I’m re-reading the opening paragraphs of his rant with that in mind, and everything takes on a very different light.

    @ALloyd: Thanks for re-posting that here. It does seem that The Australian has stopped posting comments — though that may just be because they haven’t done their moderation yet.

    While ISPs provide connectivity rather that hosting, many businesses do offer both services and brand themselves ISPs. While your point is valid, I suspect it’s too subtle to be used as part of this debate.

  6. @ ALloyd on 17 February 2009 at 3:30 am

    “It seems Australian IT doesn’t want my comment.”·

    Mine neither. Although it admittedly mostly echoed the sentiments of other commentators: Straw men. Hypothetical boy deliberately bypassing ‘adult content’ warnings and other measures designed to prevent him from accessing such sites. Parental responsibility. Importance of encouraging open communication between children and responsible adults, etc.

  7. Lost for words. The arguments are so flawed that I still find it hard that supposedly intellectual people like Hamilton can’t see them. The painful truth is that the “Won’t somebody think of the children” angle is exceptionally effective in Australia, with an audience brought up on a diet of Today Tonight sensationalist journalism and a disturbing resistance to checking facts behind the hysteria. We’re close to the US in our ability to obfuscate the core principles of our democracy and civil liberties behind fear and misinformation.

    I don’t have anything constructive to add to the debate, just a rambling disgust brought on by my frustration in seeing how blinkered our society is still willing to be and how contolled they are by fear.

  8. And my comment wasn’t published either — but possibly because it was rather long, because it had also been published here, because I’m viewed as being associated with Crikey and it’s a branding thing, or some combination of these.

  9. Interesting point. It seems like Hamilton really hasn’t engaged with any of his critics in any sort of way, other than by calling them a bunch of nasty names. It brings to mind the Oz’s hissy fit about polling and psephologists a year or two ago. How dare the hoi polloi sully Hamilton’s beautiful theories with facts or differing theories.

    On another note, does it amuse anyone else that so-called “super-blogger” Hamilton doesn’t actually have, y’know, a blog?

  10. I’m staggered by the lack of actual solid evidence or research that Clive Hamilton has based his ‘porn is bad, m’kay’ crusade on.

    Forgive me for being repetitious as I say this every opportunity that I can get, but (as far as I know) Clive Hamilton has NEVER had any of his opinions on pornography or filtering published in a peer-reviewed journal or similar. From an academically rigorous angle, this should set off the alarm bells.

    I tutor in media ethics at university, and I wouldn’t accept one of his rants for marking as an assessment due to lack of references, evidence and justification. Hell, I wouldn’t even let my students use him as a reference, for those same reasons.

    Clearly standards at CAPPE are not as high as they would have us at the non G8 uni’s believe.

  11. Rumor on Whirlpool has it that a Jim Wallace/ACL email went out ‘encouraging’ members to support Clive and Stephen’s pro-filtering view points.

  12. I’ve been a bit busy. Sorry for the slow response to comments.

    @Syd Walker: When you say…

    [Conroy] set up a blog, got a squillion comments in a day and closed it down because of excessive interest.

    … that’s not quite true. It was always intended to be a short-term trial to see what happened. He certainly did get a squillion comments though!

    The lesson they learned is that while they, the government, may have wanted to talk about other things, the citizens still had far too much pent-up frustration about the lack of meaningful dialog on Internet censorship and wanted to talk about that. A clear indication of how far out of touch Conroy’s office is with “the mood of the people”.

    @Sam D: Indeed, Clive Hamilton on this issue is nothing but bluster and rhetoric.

    There’s nothing wrong, in and of itself, with Jim Wallace and his Australian Christian Lobby asking people to get involved in the political process. It’s no different from, say, GetUp! asking its members to do the same. This is how we motive each other to take part in politics.

    It only gets dodgy when people aren’t accurately informed about what they’re supporting — for example, Wallace’s and Hamilton’s continual misleading descriptions of the government’s plans — or when participants don’t accurately identify themselves or their affiliations.

    Someone wrote somewhere recently that the socially-conservative evangelical churches just happen to be very good at this kind of political organisation.

  13. Bluster and rhetoric are things I expect from politicians, not from people attached to CAPPE. 🙁

    I don’t those who are anti-filter/anti-censorship come close to the evangelicals in terms of political organisation, but with any luck we can find a way of doing things that works for us.

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