What happens when censorship breaks down?

Stephen Conroy has partially backed down on his mandatory internet filtering proposal. This includes revisiting the issue of what should be in the ‘Refused Classification’ category that the filter would be designed to catch.

This is a good move, because as I have argued before this is the real issue here. Conroy wasn’t ever planning to censor anything new; he was trying to adapt the existing censorship rules to a new form of communication. Apart from the issue of false positives in assessing what material was RC and some probably minor issues with internet speed, it wasn’t clear why we should have one set of censorship rules online and another set applying to DVDs, magazines, cinemas etc.

As it happens, the 15 or so years in which the internet has been a big social phenomenon have been a case study in what happens when a censorship regime breaks down. Others are more expert in this than I am, but it is not obvious to me that we can draw many if any straight lines between a de facto absence of censorship and major new social problems.