It’s funny; I’m about as much threat to the state as smelly socks. And
yet something happened at 8pm on Tuesday night, Sydney time, that gave
me the shivers. Maybe it’s a technical problem, I kept telling myself,
which is why I’ve waited 36 hours before making it public.

As most of you who received my email on Monday now realise, JOHN HOWARD’S SPEECH (a pdf of the disappeared page has been posted on richardneville.com –
let’s see how long it lasts) was an act of satire and culture jamming. Its impact
was way beyond expectation, as was the variation in feedback. Many of
you wanted to believe in John Howard’s U-turn, and said he “stood
taller” after the speech. Others replied he had “sniffed the wind” and
was cutting his cloth to ensure his political survival. It made them
hate the PM even more. A seasoned activist emailed from London: “This
speech proves John Howard is smarter than Tony Blair”. To heighten its
impact, I asked a student to design a site that closely resembled the
official page of the Australian Prime Minister, as well as his
personality, ­ oodles of grey.

For $9.71, I purchased a web-hosting package from Yahoo, which included
domain name registration. Was I wrong to indulge in this undergraduate
jape? My previous email
reported, “A friend just sent me this link, but I can’t believe it”.
Well, when the site went up, the designer sent me the link and I
couldn¹t believe how good it looked.

Satire is intellectual slum clearance. It works best if people are
sucked in for awhile. I left a trail of clues. Johnhowardpm.org is
registered in my name, easily accessed. The embedded links were a
give-away. Lotsa typos.

In the first 24 hours, the site received 10,500 visits, thanks to many of you. Then it was blocked, and remains so.

I didn’t realise this until I opened my emails yesterday morning.
Complaints of a “dead link” were building up. Crikey.com.au received
similar reports and asked if I had heard from the PM’s office. Not a
peep. At first I put it down to local area tech probs, but over the day
the site started to disappear, server by server, like watching the
lights go out all over Europe. Urgent emails to Yahoo have remained
unanswered for 36 hours. Blogger Tim Longhurst has more background and traffic figures here.

What’s the alleged crime? Will the spooks knock at the door? During the
debate on Australia’s draconian “anti terror” laws, the PM kept
assuring us all that free speech would never be endangered. Sure.

Several questions remain: 1) who ordered the closing of the site? 2) On
what grounds? 3) By what authority? 4) Through what mechanism? 5) Why
in secret? 6) Will I get a refund from Yahoo?

CRIKEY: We’ve investigated this over the last couple of days but don’t
have any evidence to suggest it is anything more than a innocent
technical issue. It’s certainly a spooky coincidence but as Tim Longhurst
writes this morning: “It’s far more likely to be a story about what a
terrible hosting company “Yahoo!” is. The
latest word from Yahoo is that they can’t explain why the site isn’t
working and they don’t know how to fix it. The bills have been paid,
everything is set up correctly. They think it’s got something to do
with the ‘domain status’ which is in a ‘hold state’, but Yahoo
themselves can’t work out why.” We’ve called John Howard’s office for a
comment three times but have yet to hear anything back. We’re not
suggesting they have anything to do with the site going down but it
would be nice if they’d speak to us.

Peter Fray

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