Of Governments and Blogs (a response)

Dave Bath has an interesting take (2008-12-11) on the whole government ‘blog’ thing and the nature of the comments thereupon. I’m of two minds.

On the one hand, I, too, noticed that a lot of the commentary was decidedly off-topic. (Like so many others I’m at least partially guilty of partaking in this, although many did at least attempt to address the filter in the context of the issue under discussion.) On the other, I think the government has to accept a significant share of the blame here.

Let me explain.

The problem is how Senator Conroy et al. handled the whole ‘blog’ thing. In short, it wasn’t. There was no ‘blog’ in any conventional sense of the word. There was no discussion, no personality. It was a series of articles extracted from a discussion paper, with a lame attempt to engage the public on the much-loathed ISP-level filter only shortly before the ‘blog’ was due to close. Blogs should be topical, they should be current, they should be relevant. The topic du jour was, of course, the filter, and by not posting about this earlier, Conroy and his minions had already shot themselves in the foot well before anyone went to bite the toe (to continue Dave’s analogy).

Any online activity is going to be subject to John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, and I think it’s naïve to believe otherwise in this day and age. So yes, you’re going to get trolls. It’s part and parcel of this whole interwebs thing. For the most part, though, in spite of its tendency to veer off-topic (and on to the topic of filtering), the commentary was reasonably sensible. (I realise that most of the trolls would not have escaped the Pit Of Despair Moderation™.)

As far as I could tell, though, the majority of the (off-topic) whinging about the filter related to the lack of any forum for discussion, which to me seems perfectly reasonable. If you’re going to have a blog about the economy of the intertubes and not have a post on the one topic about which everyone would like to talk to you (and which will have an effect on all other policies), then you are not just stupid, you are stupid beyond redemption.

As Lyn at Public Opinion notes (2008-10-10) these are delicate beginnings….

which probably means we should be nice if we want it to continue.

I say, No. The time for being nice was over long ago. If Conroy had half a clue about what he was doing with this ‘blog’, then he would have been well-prepared for a trial by fire. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a fine idea in principle. I like the idea of ministers being able to share the reasons behind the policies and open it to discussion with the people who voted/didn’t vote for them. I think that blogging generally has opened up a whole world to people to whom it was largely inaccessible before. How long has it been possible to contact directly esteemed members of academia and get their opinions on topics relevant (and irrelevant) to their respective fields? People like Phil Plait and PZ Myers have shown us definitively how effective a blog can be, how it blurs the boundary between personal and professional, and makes otherwise distant figures (and topics) much more accessible.

Conroy and the “digital economy blog” failed at this. Epically. Yes, there were idiot commenters. That’s to be expected. Unfortunately, the “blogger himself” was just as idiotic. To quote George Carlin, “Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are even stupider!” It’s the bane of the blog, but it’s also the beauty. Everyone gets a voice, no matter how bad. With any luck, the good will be elevated and bad will be quashed.

I think Dave Bath is misguided in his criticism. I agree that there is a lot of idiot commenters out there who need to be chastised. I daresay each of us falls into this category from time to time. If we’re smart, we’ll try to take the criticism on board to prevent future lapses into idiocy. So when the Government has a real blog, which tackles real issues which are of real interest to the public*, then we can criticise the idiot commenters. Until then, we should be levelling the finger fairly and squarely at Conroy for failing to engage us at all.


* I don’t mean to suggest that the topics posted at digital economy blog were not interesting or relevant. The problem was that the most important issue to the public was relegated to a late post, 2 days before the close of the blog. If the internet filter topic had been posted first (or at least in the first week), we might have been able to have some proper discussion about all these other important issues, without the distraction of the filter.

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~ by MattR on December 23, 2008.

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