There has been a mini-storm this weekend in the UK public sector blogosphere about whether or not it’s actually possible for people working for the government can actually blog in any meaningful way without fear of reprisals, whether from their employer or in the press.
The issue in question is about a post written by one Owen Barder, a Whitehall civil servant who wrote a post that has been picked up by the Mail on Sunday in, one might say, typically hysterical fashion. You can read some views on the debate here, here and here.
My personal view is that Barder’s post, which compared George Bush to Hitler, was ill-advised for a number of reasons. One is that comparing anyone to Hitler outside a 6th form debating society is pretty daft; another that when one is blogging about an issue close to one’s day job, it’s important to be careful with the way one words things. This links into the eighth blogging tip I wrote about here:
Don’t blog about things you shouldn’t. Don’t leave yourself or (even worse) others open to personal criticism because of what you post. If you don’t fully understand an issue, don’t blog on it – yet. Read more, take in other people’s views. Don’t make yourself look an idiot. Don’t flame people. What’s the point? You can disagree with others while remaining polite. It isn’t hard. Don’t deliberately take an extreme stance to provoke reactions. The most likely effect this will have is that people will ignore you.
It’s important that people working within the public sector have the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience through blogging, if they choose to. But, just as with any employee, they have to ensure that what they blog about, and the tone in which they do it, won’t impact negatively on their employer.
There’s possibly an issue here about whether public sector blogs work better behind a password, like those on IDeA’s CoPs. Of course, this means the general public misses out.
I’m planning a local government blogging platform, and in it blogs can be set to be private or public on a post by post basis. But at the end of the day, the best method of ensuring that blog posts don’t cause an unwanted publicity storm is simple common sense.
Update: A couple of comments have revealed the truth of what was in Owen’s post – which I haven’t had the chance to see because his blog is down. It turns out that all he did was quote a Guardian article, where the offending comparison was made. Given this turn of events, it’s clear that the Mail had a particular axe to grind with this particular blogger.
Would such a blatent and inaccurate smear have been made against someone writing within the mainstream media? I guess not. The question in my post is still valid – but takes a different tone, I think. Is it possible for public sector workers to blog when their words are twisted in such a fashion by those who have an interest in discrediting them?