Civil servants, blogs and anonymity

Back onto one of my favourite subjects: bloggers’ anonymity. There’s plenty of background here.

Paul Johnston wrote in the comments:

Great to see this upswing in civil servant blogging, but quite understandably they seem to be anonymous. Very understandable in my opinion and in my view quite acceptable if that is what suits the individuals best. I assume these civil servants want to remain anonymous a) to reduce the likelihood of the media doing anything silly with what they write b) to emphasize that what they say has nothing to do with the views of their employer. Are you still uncomfortable with that, Dave?

I replied that it doesn’t make me uncomfortable, just that I think transparency is always preferable. Besides, Mark O’Neill of DCMS has revealed his identity, it’s just Chris the Digital Pioneer who is staying in the shadows for now. I guess it depends on what you are doing, and one of the victims of the brevity of the guidance is that it’s hard to apply it all to every way a civil servant can participate online.

Take the recent example of Dylan Jeffrey from DCLG posting a comment on this blog, giving his department’s position on a topic under discussion. Had he done this anonymously, it would have been pretty useless.

Jeremy Gould blogs openly as himself, and as a result has become influential in the world of eGov, and has done a significant amount to push the agenda forward. This wouldn’t have been posible if no-one knew who he was.

As for the liklihood of media twisting words or messages – well, Civil Serf pretty much answers that one. Point one is that the media will report it even if it is anonymous; and number two is that discovering the identity of the blogger becomes part of the game. In the meantime, the anonymous blogger, perhaps lulled into a false sense of security, has blogged things that perhaps they really shouldn’t and ends up in even more trouble once they are outed, which is inevitable.

I don’t really have that much of a problem with anonymous bloggers, really, I just think that nobody really stays anonymous for long and that whatever they are trying to achieve with their blog in the vast majority of cases would be more successful if their identity is known. There are exceptions: people in oppressive regimes, etc, but for civil servants, as the guidance says, “be a civil servant”!

3 thoughts on “Civil servants, blogs and anonymity”

  1. I agree with you Dave – I think we need to get to a situation where civil servants can talk as themselves, in a personal capacity, with the knowledge of their employers, without this being a big deal. People who experience public services from the inside have lots to add to the online debate – without necessarily being whistleblowers – and it’s important that they contribute openly. What they say isn’t government policy and it’s worth clarifying that, but they’re likely to have an informed opinion worth hearing.

    Anonymity doesn’t advance this ideal at all, and actually makes it more likely that blogging civil servants will succumb snarkiness or breaking the other sensible principles which are now thankfully in place.

    For the record, I’ve started blogging as me on a site I manage and pay for myself, with the new principles, the Civil Service Code, and Jeremy’s excellent disclaimer to help explain where I’m coming from and what my opinions actually represent.

  2. Dave, I take your point and will think it over. However, I’m happier keeping things as they are for now because the blog is just a personal endeavour and I feel a degree of anonymity helps maintain this distinction. Please be assured that I am not trying to be underhand, or say anything that I wouldn’t be happy to have attributed to me.

  3. Chris – I’m not trying to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to. If anonymity suits you, and you are aware of the dangers – which you clearly are – then stick with it.

    But the experience I, and people like Steph and Jeremy, have had shows that you shouldn’t have any problems when you decide to emerge from the shadows!

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