How many Australians want their government to filter online content? Hint: not very many

Last night in Sydney I successfully debated with some other colleagues that governments should not censor the internet. One of my co-speakers, Google’s Ross LaJeunesse, has an article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald arguing against Australia’s proposed mandatory internet filter.

I agree and it looks like many Australians do, too (via ABC Radio’s PM tonight):

ASHLEY HALL: It seems the more parents learn about the Government’s proposed internet filter, the less they like it.

That’s the finding of a survey of parents in marginal electorates commissioned by a group representing several internet companies, state school organisations and libraries.

The researchers say even though parents want to make the internet safer, they don’t think a mandatory filter is the way to do it.

Meredith Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Most parents worry about what their children are exposed to online.

SUE VERCOE: So they did confess that in reality, while it was their responsibility to control their child’s internet use, often they were just too busy, they didn’t really know how to go about monitoring and installing the free filters and that it was impossible to monitor everything their child was exposed to.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Sue Vercoe is the chief executive of GA Research.

In January it asked 39 parents living in marginal electorates in Sydney and Brisbane what they thought about the Government’s proposed mandatory internet filter.

SUE VERCOE: They haven’t heard much about the Government’s internet filtering legislation but if you ask them whether they support or oppose it, around two thirds are supportive, because at first glance, they believe that it will help ensure their children are not exposed to inappropriate material online.

And some of them also think that it might help combat paedophilia. However, when they hear a little bit more about the proposal and they become aware that there are other filtering options available, their support drops significantly.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Sue Vercoe says even though the number of respondents is small, the survey is significant.

SUE VERCOE: The findings of focus groups can be considered broadly indicative, but they are supported by quantitative research that McNair Ingenuity conducted earlier this year.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: She’s referring to a survey of around 1,000 people in February.

It found 80 per cent of Australian adults supported the proposed mandatory government internet filter to block access to overseas websites containing refused classification material.

But 46 per cent didn’t want the government to determine which websites would be blocked.

Sue Vercoe says GA Research asked the parents to rank four different models of filtering.

SUE VERCOE: The first three preferences that they gave were firstly more education for parents and children about how to use the internet more safely and how to install free filters. The second preference was for an optional filtering system; and where different filter could be set for adults and children within the one household.

Their third preference was for, if it was going to be mandatory filtering, for it to just be a limited range of content, primarily focused on child pornography, and the Government’s more broader mandatory filtering, was actually their last preference.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The research was commissioned by the Safer Internet Group, whose members include Google, iiNet, Yahoo7, the Australian Council of State School Organisations and the Australian Library and Information Association.

But the idea of a mandatory filter still has the support of the Australian Christian Lobby.

The Lobby’s Managing Director Jim Wallace says the new research isn’t valid.

JIM WALLACE: I think it’s typical of the misinformation that’s coming from those opposed to this government proposal. If you look at the Safer Internet Group, eight of the nine people in the association are internet related people.

The McNair Ingenuity survey was done to a bona fide survey model, it surveyed 1,000 people, and 80 per cent of those specifically said that they favoured the mandatory government internet filter that would block access to overseas websites.

So, I find this is spurious. They’ve used just focus groups. You know; who were in the focus groups?

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: A spokeswoman for the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says the Government does not support refused classification content being available online.

She says the proposed filter would bring the internet into line with other media outlets.

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