Why I Liked Australia Better When Politicians Didn't Know About Technology

Late last week I was perusing the Coalition's plan for child safety online. It's a rigid document that proposes strict plans for pursuing court action against cyberbullies, and a proposal that would see age-appropriateness ratings and classifications slapped onto mobile phone products. Respectfully, I would like to label this plan as a load of tosh. I liked Australia better when our politicians didn't care about technology. Here's why.

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The Coalition's 11-page document on the cybersafety of children (PDF) is a very serious document that talks about committees, action plans and processes. Here's the long and short of it.

The Coalition -- like the Government -- wants to keep kids safe online. That's a great idea, how are they going to do it?

Well, they plan on appointing a Children's e-Safety Commissioner as a one-stop shop for parents, children and teachers. This commissioner would -- among other things -- act to swiftly remove offensive content from websites like Facebook and Twitter within 24 hours of a complaint being made. After that, the case can go to trial if required.

The plan also calls for mobile phone manufacturers to work with the office of the aforementioned Commissioner to slap appropriateness and warning labels on smartphones so that parents understand what the phones can do and how suitable they are for their children.

Phones would be "rated" like a movie or video game, with appropriateness scales going from Suitable for 0-12 and Suitable for 13-16. Also, smartphone manufacturers would be required to sell handsets with parental controls engaged so as to protect children from harmful material if their parents don't know much about tech.

The Government this afternoon butted in and said that they're glad the Coalition supports similar strategies for protecting children online as they have been for the last three years. Tee hee, haw haw.

Regardless of who says what in the polito-sphere, I call bullshit on this so-called strategy. Here's an example:

I could go out right now and take a life with the spoon I used to eat my delicious lunch. Does that mean that all spoons need to have a warning label on them based on how sharp they are? Will that lead to the banning of sporks? Will we all have to resort to eating food with our hands again because a child might hurt itself on a simple spoon? Does my mum know I'm using sharp spoons, or is her level of education about cutlery something the government needs to commission an action committee meeting for?

Of course, this is reductio ad absurdum. That's obviously not going to happen, but you can see what I mean.

I can leave a Facebook comment on your Wall telling you that you're a lovely person. Conversely, I can leave a comment on the same Wall telling you what a giant douche you are. Whether or not it's true is irrelevant: it can still happen. The way a Facebook post is used comes down to the behaviour of the individual.

Just because people can get on Facebook and call other people douchebags doesn't make that the fault of Facebook. It makes it the fault of the individual and/or the individual's upbringing and/or education. Why was that person never told that calling people names isn't appropriate? If they were told, why isn't anyone helping them to understand? That's the failure of society, parenting and the education system. Not Facebook.

Run education nights for parents, send stuff out in the mail, run television ads, start websites, talk about issues to educate parents and teachers about what is possible online. Enforcement should come down to the parents and teachers, and not to some faceless G-Man who says that all phones should be rated "G" for kids, or that social networks need to take more responsibility for people being arsehats online.

If this was the policy five years ago, Australia would have never got Facebook, or Twitter, or Google Plus, because these companies wouldn't want to deal with a country that gets them to jump through nonsense hoops as a result of political grandstanding. Australia wouldn't have got the iPhone, or the HTC Desire, or the Lumia 900, because it's hard enough selling a phone here without having to go through more work to get it "rated for children".

I liked it when the government didn't know about technology, because then it was up to parents to actually parent their kids, and I could go about buying gadgets, which were and still are intended for adults, in peace.



    It would be nice, if government bodies would butt out of our lives, and parents would learn to PARENT, but you're living in a fantasy world. This is the Age of irresponsibility! Nobody is responsible for anything they do!

      Yes, there certainly is an unspoken yet clearly evident belief among lawmakers that free will is illusory and that everyone runs like clockThe natural conclusion to this is abolitfreedom and punishment for the individual.

      A failed person will be recognised as a failure of the system to prevent personal failures.

        *the abolition of freedom and punishment

        Damn the mobile site upgrade is playing havoc with forms on Android :-S

          I see what you did there!

          No personal responsibility, blame the system (technology)...

          Tee Hee.

    Bloody governments. There solution to the nations problems almost always fall into one of the following categories:
    1) New tax = problem solved.
    2) Assign a commissioner (essentially someone who is overpaid, generally does nothing and has no training in the field they are assigned).
    3) Spend money on an advertising campaign about the problem.

    Would love to see a government that can problem solve without resorting to the above methods... Politicians get paid so much why???

    Here here.

    Also, for the wall, Luke, you’re a lovely person.

    Conversely, on this same wall, you're a douche

    Does Gizmodo get rated by this e-Commissioner now? It's hidden and everythang!

      Woahhhhh, new-lines play havoc on that spoiler tag!

    Luke, my mum said she didn't approve of you calling her a giant douche on facebook.. but fear not as she does not know how to take the safety off her phone to reply.

    Just like this warning on the Opera house.

      Mate, you've NO idea. I work there. You should see the signs INSIDE....

      %^ck OHS, I'm working in a local theatre at the moment, where Council was sued several times over different issues, so it now has signs every and one says the "Maximum distributed stage load is 140kg/m2....and they have a Grand piano weighing 675kg that takes up 1.5 m2.....it also says "No flying scenery is permitted on this stage".....the stage is 6m by 6m and 3 m high.....

    It's highly doubtful that this has any intention of actually being implemented, it's exactly the same as every other 'save the children from technology' policy that's been brought up. An idea, designed to get the attention of concerned voters that could never actually be possible to implement successfully. It's great that politicians are thinking about this stuff because our laws etc. sorely need to be updated to account for the 21st century but it would help if they consulted people who know what they're talking about as opposed to the concerned mothers of the electorate. Having said that,the spoon argument is ridiculous. The natural extension of that point of view is to label/ban nothing because everything is potentially dangerous anyway. It's not a stupid idea to assist parents by labeling tech as kid friendly/appropriate (which is what they're actually suggesting), nor does it seem like a bad thing to require parental controls on phones that wish to achieve the 'kid friendly' rating. Quoting the document: "Not all vendors and operators would be required to offer such products and companies will remain free to sell products that do not meet the standards." which is a far cry from your "smartphone manufacturers would be required to sell handsets with parental controls engaged".

    Luke, I could not agree more.
    Particularly the observation that these gadgets are designed by and for adults in the first place.
    It should be bleeding obvious to parents that if they are the ones who have to buy the device because their kids are not old enough to do their own shopping, then that right there should be the warning bells that these things are not intended for the kids to be using without parental supervision.
    Some of the problem appears to be ignorant adults expecting even more ignorant politicians to do their child minding for them.
    (by ignorant, I mean lacking understanding. I'm not just using the word as an insult. Though if the shoe fits....)

    It is foolish to blame the government; we are a risk averse society and generally will jump at any solution that seems to offer greater "safety" when in fact it offers nothing but embuggerance. On the other had, of course, our politicians are allowed to get away with things that the great majority of us want, like assisted euthanasia for people who are in great pain or discomfort and with not hope of recovery. I suspect that this still comes back to "us" because how many of us ever bothers to tell our elected representative what we expect of them. Until we are all willing to make our opinions known nothing will change for the better and our politicians will continue to be what the now are.

    You raise some solid points Luke. It's always a tough battle against Government policies that exist under the guise of "protect the children". There have been moments of progress however, with the R18+ classifications for games, and the shelving of Con-roy's filter, but it still alarms me at how desperately the Government wants to involve itself with raising Australian children.

    It's just plain mindless and ignorant, but they think it'll win them votes from mindless ignorant people - it's why politicians do everything they do.
    These issues are popular in the popular press (read "press for cretins") so of course populist Tony and gang quickly formulate some half brained scheme to cash in on it.
    If they win it'll be one of those "long term" promises that'll probably be forgotten when better stuff comes along.

    A great article full of common sense from someone who actually thinks for themselves. I don't see that too often. Granted that its a rant but it is a change from what I have been reading on life hacker lately. Thank you

    Proposed new title for this article:
    "Why I Liked Australia Better When Politicians Didn't Pretend To Know About Technology"

      One thing is abundantly clear. Politicians have absolutely no effing idea when it comes to technology.
      That's why they become politicans - all they can do is talk.
      They are far too thick and ignorant to do a real job that might require real understanding of technology.

      Couldn't agree more. There's a difference between knowing technology and understanding technology. Sadly, most people in power fail dismally at understanding.

    Personally, I'm of the opinion that kids don't need a phone until they're 13, let alone a smart phone.

    Less kids online = less trolls.

    I foresee highly congested courtrooms. Cyber-court ?

    Last edited 18/11/12 2:02 am

    Australian judges don't use gavels and never have.

    This proposed Children’s e-Safety Commissioner better have many many deputies or he/she will be very very busy.

    Sounds more like Government gone mad with a new bureaucracy to suck up even more tax-payer dollars.

    The answer is simple really. If Facebook wants to be available online in Australia then they must deal with online bullying. For example they have to set-up a telephone hotline to deal with any instances of bullying within a 12 hour period of being reported. Then it's just a matter of "three strikes and you are out".

      Why? It's facebook.com. Not facebook.com.au.

      You joined an American site so tough, if you want to block everything that doesn't end in a .au may I suggest moving to Lybia?

        Get Facebook to deal with it, not government agencies that cost us in taxes. If they refuse then a blanket ban.

          And back to the wowsers wanting a great firewall of china because someone else needs to hold their hand and tuck them in at night while they use the big scary internet...

          Last edited 21/11/12 5:33 pm

    You can just block people on Facebook anyway, People criticise each other all the time, it's not necessarily bullying. It's like REAL LIFE (somehow), you simply can't control every action of your child or someone else's child. Why would you want to anyway? What child would feel normal growing up in a fascist home, school and internet.
    Parents. This will not make your lives easier. This will not make your child's lives easier.

    Meanwhile they're trying to work out why tech costs more in Australia.

    This rubbish is why, manufacturers have to go to special efforts for our pissy little market because our politicians are a bunch of giant douches.

    So Luke what do we do?
    Easy to bag out the goverments and parents - easy.
    Don't let the politicians do anything - they know shit-all about technology and are douches.
    Don't force parents to do anything - they're not iterested in doing anything - probly know shit-all about technology.
    So please tell me, who is going to do anything?
    Or we do nothing, because none of us really care?

    IIRC Mark Newton once said on Whirlpool that Helen Coonan was the best Comms minister we've ever had, precisely because she did absolutely nothing.

    Thanks for the article Luke. I think it's time all Australians started paying more attention to our politicians and to keep them accountable for their shenanigans - because it looks like we can't trust them to do anything right for the country. There are bigger issues at hand than unnecessary, insidious, and mindless censorship such as a natural environment that is deteriorating from years of abuse, and a global economy where the U.S. is no longer the force it once was.

    "This commissioner would — among other things — act to swiftly remove offensive content from websites like Facebook and Twitter within 24 hours of a complaint being made. "

    Anyone care to define what "offensive content" is? And who will decide this?

      I find this ^ comment has offensive content, Someone please remove it!

        I find your offense offensive! I find your use of this symbol: ^ offensive!

          What are you going to do about it? complain? have my post removed? who decide's? :P

    So what should be done to curb inappropriate/illegal behaviour? You can laugh at their ineptitude but you provide no solutions.

    The effing world has changed, in many ways for the worse, and children are still children.

    i don't think politicians KNOW anything about technology...it doesn't stop them though

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