On the back of a recent and positive DomPost article on public sector blogging, this Daily Mail article was brought to my attention. Now, if you read the article cold you’ll think the guy has been undermining the government by writing potentially seditious posts and generally acting like some kind of deviant.

Naturally it’s a media beat-up and venal exaggeration, and a fisking of the Daily Mail article demonstrates pretty clearly the dangers we face as blogging public servants. It’s also generated some heat among British public sector bloggers. Mostly in a very polite kind of way, but there you go.

What is obvious is that Jason Ryan’s recent post on ‘your blog as a resume’ is all too pertinent. The things we write in jest or haste have never been more accessible or mis-quotable.

Here in godzone I experienced a rather obvious and annoying use of misquotation when I was writing for Public Address, courtesy of our resident right-wing doyen David Farrar. At the time I wasn’t too concerned, pissed-off certainly, but had the issue been taken to the levels that Owen Barder has experienced it could be another matter altogether.

Russell Brown pointed out awhile ago that the first thing people seem to do when a person hits the media in a negative sense is look for a MySpace page. The expectation is that lunatics are highly likely to have recorded their decline in some such social networking site. And sadly, they all too often do.

But… most of us just write a blog as a form of socialisation and communication. Consequently, there is a strong need to ensure that we’re careful about what we put online because it is so easy to misrepresent written content. This is especially pertinent when it comes to not having readers conflate our blog interests with our work interests. Problematically, the risk of conflation seems no greater than the same type of interests being conflated in the real world. But that is a misnomer.

The Barder example demonstrates very clearly that web2.0 of any variety needs to be approached very carefully if you are planning on taking public office or a public service position. Where drunken crazy youth is something we’ve all come to expect, it’s hard to dredge up hearsay about a person’s actions from 10 or 20 years ago. Drunken crazy youth online is a different matter altogether.

As an aside… it seriously annoys me that I’ve become something like a voice of mature adulthood in this matter. The internet used to be all about guerrilla information. That it’s become far less cyberpunk and far more cybernanny should be regarded as one of the great tragedies… The cold reality we’re left with though is that everything we place online can now be used as a megaphone with which to slander us.

The best strategy seems to be the careful avoidance of things that can become bludgeons in the hands of bruisers like the Daily Times. If you’re the kind of person who engages in political commentary on your blog, podcast, whatever, then you’re also highly likely to be the kind of person who’s going to become involved in politics or public office. Consequently, once you get past the angry yoof stage of your public awareness, the things you have written will be laid bare for critics. But you need to publicise your anger in order to establish a public voice, learn the ropes, etc.

Bit of a catch-22 really.

Does this mean that all we can ever talk about is lolcats and sports? Possibly. Until some sense of the ground rules about cherry-picking blog content are properly determined then everyone is at risk of having their thoughts or opinions laid bare and misrepresented (or accurately represented in the future, when they’ve evolved or changed). Doubtless the courts will determine what is permissible and what is not in this issue.

So what to do in the meantime?

Well, if you’ve got a blog you really don’t want people to read, then take it down. It’s cached somewhere, but at least the more stupid of your detractors won’t find it easily. You can’t remove old comments from other people’s sites, but at least they’re less accessible than a big aggregation of the same embarrassing thought.

If you’re new to blogging? Then just be warned, a hot-heated morning with too much coffee can, and will, become a permanent record. If you’re a public servant who wants to blog, try to avoid typing anything at all around heated events in the political cycle. That means elections, s.59, foreshore and seabed…

Otherwise? Jump to it!!