Some of you will have noted that I’ve been quite opinionated of late. A blogpost a day…quite intense stuff. Most columnists are lucky if they get one or two out per week – the big name ones anyway. (What’s the difference between a column and a blog?)
Because blogging and social media are still in their infancy, the rules have not been agreed. A number of people have made some sound contributions, but the conventions have not yet been universally established within wider society.
One of the unwritten conventions of ministerial office is that ministers get to appoint supporters to head large quangos and the like – posts where they also have to be party-politically neutral too. We’ve seen this with Greg Dyke (Labour until hounded out over Hutton) and Chris Patten (Conservative) at the BBC. Ditto with Trevor Phillips at the Equalities and Human Rights Commission who was a former Labour candidate for Mayor of London.
We also saw this issue coming up with the appointment of Andrew Adonis at the Institute for Government soon after the Coalition came into office. This was when he was asked about his experiences of being inside Gordon Brown’s bunker while the negotiations around the formation of a new government were going on – because the role he’d just taken on meant he had – has – to be politically neutral, where as what he was asked to comment on was one of the most politicised events in a democracy.
One of the questions often put to me by potential applicants to the civil service is that of past or current political activities – in particular blogging or writing articles for college or university magazines. What are the rules? This is especially important these days as what people publish is very difficult to bottle up once the ‘publish’ button has been pressed – as one newspaper found out the hard way.
The same newspapers are also more than happy to go through people’s past posts on social media profiles in the quest for extra readers and greater advertising revenues. And not just newspapers – insurance companies and potential employers too.
In terms of this blog, what are the rules of posts made prior to taking up employment with them? Does the existence of these blogposts prevent me from taking up employment with certain organisations?
There is an inevitable tension between the push from some parts of cyberspace to block anonymous users – forcing people to publish under their own names, and employers becoming increasingly nervous about brand and reputation management, which this article raises as being a possible breach of civil liberties. But how do you prove that you were turned down for a job on the grounds of one politically partisan blogpost or one tweet that was made under the influence of alcohol at three in the morning?
The current generation of young people are the first to grow up with social media – and in a sense they are going to be the ‘guinea pigs’ for conventions, rules – and even laws that evolve from this. I started using Facebook over five years ago. Moving from being in my mid-20s to my early 30s will inevitably mean that the content will be different to someone who goes from their mid-teens to their early 20s.
Those of us who grew up before the social media age – and even before the internet age need to be very careful about how we judge young people trying to go into the world of work – especially if, as potential employers we are doing internet searches and looking up social media profiles. The same is true when the media picks up on someone regarding a news story. Is it really appropriate for them to be quoting from and/or publishing ‘compromising’ or embarrassing pictures from their school, college or university days?
One of the things that I’ll be watching closely for in the Leveson Inquiry is the use of social media. Let’s not make things harder – for younger people in particular – than they already are.