Thursday 25 July 2013

A purely hypothetical conversation

Political leader:  We're going to need your help on this ...The plebs are just not buying into our plans to censor the Internet.

Dodgy PR strategist:  What do you mean?

Political leader:  They keep signing online petitions and writing whiny liberal blog posts every time we try to set up our firewall.

Dodgy PR strategist: [laughing] so you're saying you can't make the Internet less free because the Internet is too free, and you want me to come up with a solution for you?

Political leader: [laughing self consciously, in the manner of someone too stupid to know whether they've just been insulted or not] yes I suppose so ...

Dodgy PR strategist: Well what's your pitch?

Political leader: Pitch?

Dodgy PR strategist: [exasperated sigh] Oh, come on, didn't you used to work in PR?

Political leader: Yes, but maybe you colonials use different words?

Dodgy PR strategist: [scowls at having to listen to such a brazen bullshit excuse] Sales pitch, line, propaganda message ...

Political leader:  Errrrm ...

Dodgy PR strategist: Don't tell me you've just been telling them that you're going to censor the internet?

Political leader: Well ...

Dodgy PR strategist: That's what you've been doing isn't it?

Political leader: Well, pretty much yes. We said we need to censor it because of terrorism.

Dodgy PR strategist: No wonder they're not buying it! The terrorism card was only ever going to last a decade or so. You can't just use exactly the same propaganda techniques as your discredited predecessors!

Political leader: But it worked for him, look at all the wars he got to start and all the elections he won and all of his corporate kickbacks [voice whining with envy by the end].

Dodgy PR strategist: It worked for him, but it won't work for you... Times change, you've got to change with them.

Political leader: Who can we blame then? The trade unions?

Dodgy PR strategist: What have the trade unions got to do with the Internet?

Political leader: Well ... I don't know, I was just trying out ideas.

Dodgy PR strategist: Well don't! ... I'm trying to think.

Political leader: [begins tapping fingers tunelessly on arm of chair]

Dodgy PR strategist: [scowls]

Political leader: [stops tapping fingers]

Dodgy PR strategist: Perhaps you could use some kind of wedge strategy?

Political leader: [look of podgy faced childish petulance] Oooh, not wedge strategies again. They divide us as much as the opposition ... Don't you remember the EU referendum and gay marriage? The opposition are basically the same as us now, if you divide them you divide us too.

Dodgy PR strategist: [look of astonishment at unexpected display of political insight] You might be right! ... It's not the opposition we need to divide it's the public.

Political leader: But how do we divide the public on censorship? The polls say that apart from the our reactionary core vote, the public hate it.

Dodgy PR strategist: You need a moral Trojan horse.

Political leader: [confused look]

Dodgy PR strategist: Your trying to sell them something immoral right?

Political leader: I wouldn't say immoral.

Dodgy PR strategist: You wouldn't say that censorship is immoral?

Political leader: Well, not in as many words.

Dodgy PR strategist: [stares]

Political leader: Well, these leftie liberal anarchists want to bring down the state. They've got too much freedom to spread their insidious Trotskyite rhetoric. We need to safeguard society. We need to let the corporate media re-establish control ... If you think about it - to not silence these dangerous revolutionaries would be the immoral thing to do!

Dodgy PR strategist: OK, so you've developed a morality narrative to justify it to yourself, but how about the public? Do you think you'll ever convince them that censorship is the moral thing to do?

Political leader: Well... we could work on it ... If we repeat it often enough, surely that would work ... Look at the way we endlessly blamed the economic crisis on the opposition, the public lapped that one up.

Dodgy PR strategist: Look. The trick isn't to convince them that the thing they hate is actually morally virtuous, that could take years of repetition and you'll still have a huge battle with the opposition and leave yourself open to attack. You need to trick them into accepting it.

Political leader:  How?

Dodgy PR strategist: With a moral Trojan horse strategy.

Political leader: [exasperated look at being confronted with something he doesn't understand for a second time]

Dodgy PR strategist: You know what a moral panic is?

Political leader:  Oh yes, my neighbour is an expert at creating moral panics. She did a brilliant one on paedophiles once when she was a newspaper editor. It was so funny [chuckling], the reactionary plebs even burned down a paediatric practice!  

Dodgy PR strategist: That's actually a good idea!

Political leader: What, burning down a paediatric practice?

Dodgy PR strategist: No - a paedophilia moral panic.

Political leader: Why?

Dodgy PR strategist: Because you can use the moral Trojan horse

Political leader: [confused look]

Dodgy PR strategist: Look, you're trying to sell them something immoral that they hate, so you create a moral panic and offer them the thing they hate as a wonderful gift to resolve the moral panic.

Political leader: [still looking confused]

Dodgy PR strategist: You whip up a load of hysteria about child pornography, then you announce the roll-out of a nationwide child-porn filter for the Internet.

Political leader: But I don't want to censor child-porn, I want to censor lefties and bloody liberal whingers.

Dodgy PR strategist: [another look of exasperation] Look. This way you can make them accept state censorship. You roll out the child-porn blocker and anyone who opposes it can be smeared as a paedophile.

Political leader: That's genius!

Dodgy PR strategist:  [smug look] That's what you pay me for!

Political leader: [expression of doubt, turning to agitation] But, what about the bloody lefties?

Dodgy PR strategist: Wait, I've got a better idea. 

Political leader: What?

Dodgy PR strategist: Don't just use the firewall to block child pornography, use it to block all pornography.

Political leader:  I don't like the sound of that! People like pornography, that would be unpopular. We'd lose votes over it.

Dodgy PR strategist: You just need to get your narrative right. Tell them it's about protecting children. Tell them that the wonderful innocence of youth mustn't be despoiled. Tell them that children shouldn't be exposed to vile pornography.

Political leader: What, like rape porn?

Dodgy PR strategist: Exactly. Make out that the censorship programme is an effort to protect children, and then add rape porn and paedophilia into the mix.

Political leader: So that ...[waits expectantly]

Dodgy PR strategist: So that you can roll out your firewall and taint anyone who tries to oppose it as a rape porn apologist ... But don't call it a firewall or censorship or anything like that. Call it a porn blocker or a child protection measure.

Political leader: But I don't want to protect children, I want to silence political dissent. Look what happened in Egypt and Hungary. Look what is happening in Turkey right now. We mustn't allow that to happen here.

Dodgy PR strategist: You're missing the point.

Political leader: What point?

Dodgy PR strategist: That when you launch the pornography blocker, you're setting the precident that the government can automatically block citizen from accessing perfectly legal material. Plus by installing Internet filters you're putting the censorship infrastructure in place. Once it's all rolled out, you can easily change the parameters to block whatever you like.

Political leader: That's good, but I still don't want to block pornography, do you know how popular pornography is on the Internet?

Dodgy PR strategist: OK, then give them a loaded choice.

Political leader:  What do you mean?

Dodgy PR strategist: Tell the public that the porn blocker will be optional, but that if they want pornography they'll have to opt out.
Political leader: But won't loads of people opt out?

Dodgy PR strategist: Not if you load the choice properly.
Political leader:  What do you mean?

Dodgy PR strategist: You make opting out, or opposing the scheme look like a very bad choice.
Political leader: How?

Dodgy PR strategist:  Well, like I said, you can stop people from opposing the scheme by talking a lot about rape porn, paedophila, violence against women and the sexualisation of childhood, then anyone who opposes the scheme will be tainted by association. You oppose those things, then if the opposition oppose your censorship proposal, the average Joe will assume that they are opposing your censorship proposal because they approve of the nasty things you oppose.

Political leader: But what about people opting out?

Dodgy PR strategist: I was just getting to that... You need to make opting out look like a really bad option too.

Political leader: But how?

Dodgy PR strategist: Let me think, [mumbling under breath] pornography, pornography, pornography ...
Political leader: Can't we just make it a child-porn firewall? 

Dodgy PR strategist: You could, but my idea is better.

Political leader: Why?

Dodgy PR strategist: Because you're setting the precedent that the government can automatically block lawful material, which will come in very handy when it comes to blocking the leftie websites and protest groups that you're scared of. 

Political leader: I suppose so, but I still don't want to take people's porn away. They won't like that one bit.

Dodgy PR strategist: But you're not taking it away, you're giving them a loaded choice.

Political leader: Yes, but they'll opt out.

Dodgy PR strategist: Look, most people won't opt out. Women and people with kids won't opt out. You just need to figure out a way of deterring men from opting out.

Political leader: But how? 

Dodgy PR strategist: Lets think this through, what's bad about looking at pornography?

Political leader: I don't know?

Dodgy PR strategist: Have you ever had a bad experience with pornography?

Political leader: Not really.

Dodgy PR strategist: No me neither.

Political leader: Well there was that time my mother caught me with a copy of Mayfair. That was embarrassing!

Dodgy PR strategist: That's it!

Political leader: What is?

Dodgy PR strategist: Shame!

Political leader: What about it?

Dodgy PR strategist: People are ashamed when they're caught watching pornography. 

Political leader: And why is that important?

Dodgy PR strategist: Porn habits are usually personal things, people don't want everyone to know what they've been masturbating to.

Political leader: I suppose not, but how is that going to stop people from opting out of the firewall?

Dodgy PR strategist: You could make it absolutely clear that anyone who opts out of the firewall goes on a government database of pornography users. 

Political leader: Why?

Dodgy PR strategist: Because nobody would want to openly admit to the government that they use pornography.

Political leader: That's brilliant!

Dodgy PR strategist: No worries.

Political leader: What do you call this strategy again?

Dodgy PR strategist: The moral Trojan Horse.

Political leader: Thanks! We'll get working on a fueling a pornography moral panic. I know a few newspaper proprietors that will lend a hand, as long as I totally cripple the proposed press regulation measures for them.

Dodgy PR strategist: Yes, it's always a good idea to keep the press onside.

Political leader: I'll get our technical guys working on the firewall straight away. I wonder if the tech giants do a standard firewall package we could use?

Dodgy PR strategist: Of course they do! Where do you think China get their firewall technology from?

Political leader: Oh yes! This should be easy then.

Dodgy PR strategist: Yes, it should work out quite well, as long as you remember never to refer to it as censorship or as a firewall.

Political leader:  Fine. So "pornography filter" it is then...

Dodgy PR strategist: And don't forget to fortify the moral high ground by banging on about paedophilia and rape porn.

[Dodgy PR strategist's mobile phone rings]

Dodgy PR strategist: [exiting room] OK ... OK ... OK ... I think I should be able to get him to ditch that legislation for you ...

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