Why don’t civil servants blog?

The other day Jeremy wrote a post pointing out the difficulties for public officials trying to get into social media.  He said:

Whilst it is easy to see the benefits of closer dialogue between civil servants and interested individuals conceptually, there is understandable nervousness about the reality this might create. Top of the concern is loss of control of the corporate message, but this isn’t unique to government. Is it possible for large organisations to engage in the social media space? Increasingly I think the answer might be ‘no’.

Much of the discussion that followed tried to set out counter arguments, my contribution included.  I said:

The things is that these conversations about tricky policy areas are already happening out here on the net. And by not exploring ways for government to engage the space is left for interest groups to interpret and spin what government are up to.

I understand the reluctance to put every idea out onto the web, the fear of stray thoughts coming back to bite us is every bit as strong this side of the line as on yours. But maybe there are ways around it.

But what we hadn’t figured on was how conversations are taken out of context, spun and distorted by others with an axe to grind.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at what the Daily Mail have done to blogging civil servant Owen Barder, then take a look at what Tim Worstall’s defence of Owen (via Our Word is our Weapon).

I think the Daily Mail have just killed the idea that there could be a on-line discussion with civil servants beyond the driest of consultation exercises.  And beyond that they’ve put us all on notice that what we write here in the ‘sphere can and will be used to smear us should it suit their purposes.

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About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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8 Responses to Why don’t civil servants blog?

  1. Pingback: Why civil servants need to be careful about blogging « Whitehall Webby - digital media in government

  2. andrewkbrown says:

    As a thought I wonder whether Simon Walters is a member of the NUJ. Their code of conduct says:

    A journalist shall strive to ensure that the information he/she disseminates is fair and accurate, avoid the expression of comment and conjecture as established fact and falsification by distortion, selection or misrepresentation.

  3. Pingback: LGNewMedia » Blog Archive » Is Public Sector Blogging Possible?

  4. paul canning says:

    Instead of people saying the Mail has won, people will be scared off, public service blogging is dead, why not fight back? Why not all say ‘sue them’? He obviously has a case, as Tim Worstall has shown.

    Before I started blogging (I’m a council web worker) I got legal advice and I am covered by the Human Rights Act as well as other law. But my primary sense with this is common sense – I avoid mentioning work, even obliquely. I stick to what rules there are (they’re not ‘about blogging’). I’m very careful but it’s not really that hard.

    If his ever happened to me I like to think I’d stand up for myself and I’d hope that people would support me.

    The Mail is trying to stand in the way of a juggernaut – it’s not just blogging but the wider electronic trail we’re increasingly leaving. The wired generation now starting to move up the ladder – they will demand that employers can’t use some old MySpace comment.

    I am optimistic on the future score. What depresses me is that now everyone seems to assume the Mail’s power and that we are powerless – are we?

  5. andrewkbrown says:

    Paul, thanks for your comment. I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know what legal redress Owen might have but Tim has also pointed out that Walters has carefully worded the piece to smear without libelling him.

    I guess the reason that I’m not optimistic is about the way that a paper like the Mail works and the way that it makes employers react. The Mail and similar papers have lots of practice at bringing people down and it suits some people in the civil service and government to keep the way that civil servants interact with the rest of us as controlled as possible.

    That said you could be right and this could be irresistible, but I don’t know that we’ve reached the tipping point at which there’s an acknowledgement that the risks are worth the candle by senior politicians or public servants.

  6. Pingback: Mind your p's and q's « Object Dart

  7. Pingback: SoSaidThe.Organization » Blog Archive » The Three Types of Government Blogger

  8. Pingback: Civil Servant Bloggers « Someday I Will Treat You Good

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