Sunday, 22 February 2009

On the Blackout

You may have noticed the little black .gif on the right hand side of the screen. It's not a permanent advert, but where a picture of my glorious self usually resides. Those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook will also have noticed that for the past week my ugly mug has been missing, replaced by a far more fetching blacked out picture. The reason? An incoming law in New Zealand that will force ISPs to block the internet connection of users accused of infringing copyright law, known as 'Guilt Upon Accusation'. The blackout is a solidarity campaign initiated by Creative Freedom NZ to spread the word about this fascist law that shows a blatant disregard for people's right to be held innocent until proven guilty.

Citizensheep posted a blog earlier this week, in which he questioned the reticence of people taking part in the protest. There were a number of comments defending those who had only blacked out half their avatars, noting the inconvenience it caused. Here was my response:

The reason I’ve been taking part in this blackout is that I harbour genuine concerns something like this could happen in the UK in the not too distant future and I want to highlight this particular case to as many people as possible. The blackout, I feel, is particularly effective in that so many people have been asking what it’s all about. Granted, in itself it probably won’t alter the position of the NZ government, but at least far more people are now aware of the issue. Furthermore, it’s effective because the public images we present of ourselves, which so many people are so used to seeing, are suddenly taken away, almost like one has ‘died’ online - which is what anybody unfortunate enough to fall foul of the law in NZ would experience.

Covering only half your avatar or putting it in a shadow, to me, seems a half-arsed effort. This is only a week of blackout protest. Blacking out avatars does make it a bit more inconvenient but it’s only for a week. As I said above, it’s the sudden lack of an identifier that makes this action successful in at least as much as raising awareness. Still being able to see somebody’s eyes in their avatar doesn’t really have the same powerful effect nor cause the necessary kind of disruption required for sticking the issue firmly in people’s minds.

I do realise that for mass protests to be successful, they have to require little effort. I’ve only recently graduated from university where I was very active in the politics of the students’ union and trying to get the students to care was nigh on impossible because quite frankly most of them were too lazy. The blackout doesn’t require much effort - simply change your picture. The only effort required is in making the best of the disruption caused (such as identifying avatars rather than names) However, I firmly believe that for protests to be effective they do have to be somewhat disruptive. It’s disruption that awakens us from our happy slumber and forces us to think about serious issues in the world. Many people don’t like it, but without disrupting their cosy little existence it can be extremely hard to make them sit up and pay attention.

I still stand by what I said. I'm not sure what impact this protest will have had, no doubt the NZ government will forge ahead with the law, but at least I've informed other people elsewhere about this ridiculous law.

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