Write a blog, kill your career?


4:03 pm - March 12th 2010

by Robert Sharp    


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I’ve spotted a couple of references recently to the ‘perfect memory’ of the Internet and how it can come back to haunt you in later life. It breeds a peculiar form of self-censorship. First, the now-outed Girl With A One Track Mind says:

I wish my blog wouldn’t continue to bite me on the arse (not in the good way); I’ve held my finger over “Delete Blog?” button so many times.

I can understand why Zoe might want to start afresh, but this sentiment feels wrong and offensive – like book burning.

The other worry is for those who might want to start a political career. James Joyner at the Outside the Beltway blog discusses Philosopher Kings and the potential for a blogger-turned politician.

It seems to me that the chief barrier to bloggers getting elected to public office isn’t so much their typically introverted personalities or lack of access to money but the mere fact that we’ve accumulated a long paper (pixel?) trail of recording every fool thought that’s passed through our minds over the last several years. Even bright, thoughtful, decent types like [Ross] Douthat and [Ezra] Klein — and Lord knows, [Mickey] Kaus and [James] Joyner — have written things that would kill a campaign dead, dead, dead if it showed up in an attack ad.

We could certainly add Sri Hundal and the rest of the Liberal Conspiracy team to that list.

However, Joyner’s underlying attitude is defeatest. I prefer the alternative model, whereby blogging your thoughts allows you to spot holes, inconsistencies and hypocrisy in your own logic. This is Andrew Sullivan’s stated creed and I think it is this principle which sustains him as one of the most read blogs, both in the USA and internationally.

In UK, the political ‘attack ad’ is still a concept in its infancy. That may change during the forthcoming election campaign, but the parties still seem above that sort of thing. In any case, attack adverts posted on YouTube, can be instantly countered with an ‘reply’ video which links to the context from which the offending paragraph had been pulled. Anyone who blogs is likely to have the skills to do this within the hour. I think that anyone who tried to smear someone with quotes from their own blog at, say, a public hustings, could be easily discredited. A politician who knew what he or she had written (and it is suprisingly easy to remember your arguments, once they have been typed and posted) could easily call-out such a smear or ‘gotcha’ question for what it really is – pathetic and lazy political opportunism.

However, this sort of approach only really works if you engage properly with comments and corrections on the blog. Selective deafness to criticisms only makes the problem worse. I know this is the frustration of people like Justin and Tim when trying to hold Iain to account.

Indeed, it is via Iain Dale that another example of The-Internet-Coming-Back-To-Bite-You emerges. Anna Arrowsmith is a Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, and a director of porn films. Since the Lib Dems tend to espouse “live and let live” style policies, I think this is relatively uncontroversial, but the BBC did a story on it anyway. Iain notes that Arrowsmith’s website also says something far more damaging:

Anna is liberal and open-minded but politically she supports The Labour Party, for all its sins.

Scandal!

Only, not really. The website is clearly several years old (it has plenty of <table> tags for layout, an archeological relic in web design terms) and a quick peak at the Internet Archive shows the biography was written in 2004. Likely poor Ms Arrowsmith forgot to update her biography when she switched parties, which doesn’t make it any less awkward. A more practiced blogger would have remembered when and where they endorsed piolitical parties, and made a correction to the internet record at the right time. Nonetheless, its another example of how the Internet’s perfect memory often foils our best laid plans. Hopi has more on the Arrowsmith story.

Ultimately though, I think that the wisdom of XKCD should see us through. Zoe Margolis, James Joyner and Anna Arrowsmith should all print this out and pin it to the wall above their computer screens. Then, stop worrying, and get on with being themselves as best they can.

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Reader comments


WIN. Great piece, that is all.

Hooray for xkcd. Even though I only understand about one strip in three, maths and physics being decidedly not my bag baby.

As we move towards a new era where the Internet generation hold the reins of power, none of this will matter.

I dream of the day when PMQs will no longer be held to a soundtrack of boorish paper-waving, but instead the response to a well-placed answer from the box is a simple call from the backbenches:

“PWNED!”

*thumbs up* You like this.

Do people really want to get into a ‘He said, she said’ punch up in attack ad’s and electioneering? What a complete waste of fucking time!

If you have a team of people (normally from the right-wing parties) who are going to go over everything you have written, well, that’s madness.

A bit like the gay Republican – he gets “caught” being gay, so what I may add, his hypocrisy in voting against gay rights comes to the fore. What’s the scandal? Him being gay is – not his voting record. I read some right-wing blogs, some supposed left-wing ones. On the left it was a matter of taking the piss and “now onto the important stuff” – on the right, well a mumbling disgust and how could the guy let the side down, as it were.

If you want to rip people apart because of what they write on a blog, so be it, but I think the actions of MPs speak far louder than what is written in the virtual world.

Heh.

Not sure about killing your career but it certainly makes you a target if people take a dislike to you.

Just look at what Tim Ireland is experiencing, never mind my petty issues with a mentalist attempting, badly thankfully, to smear me as all kinds of unsavoury things.

It’s odd what the Interwebs brings out in folks, keeps ’em off the streets though…

If you believe something you write, why would someone holding it up cause you problems? As you say, out of context is bad, but that is easily corrected.

I think the fear of being caught out is the problem for politicians. After all, how often did say Tony Benn get caught out, agree with him or not? And that was because he believed what he said was right, and if he later believed it was wrong, he would happily say so. Or to take it to extremes, the Winston Churchill type whose mind changing and fence jumping (and writing down volumes of his thoughts) never seemed to bother him too much.

The problem is now the obsession with media management, rather than telling the truth. The irony is the internet is actually the best way round the simplistic mirror of the media gaze.

For a second, I thought the person saying “Fuck that shit” was the person who suggested you should be careful about what you write – i.e. fuck all that idealistic shit about not controlling one’s permanently published stuff in the hope of getting a political job one day. That would be my response tbh. Blogging makes little difference to politics at present – if you want to change the world, get a job. If blogging stands in the way of that, dump the blogging.

If you believe something you write, why would someone holding it up cause you problems?

If you say something that you believe in but would cause problems with your employers or any potential employers or voters or press.

Hah. I used to think like the guy who said. fuck that shit.

But now I think like the other guy. Unemployment can do that to you.

“If you say something that you believe in but would cause problems with your employers or any potential employers or voters or press.”

My point exactly (ignoring the employers bit). If you say something you believe in and you are challenged on it, why is that a problem. Defend your beliefs, because if you are up for election it is only fair that it is you, not some homogenised caricture of you, that is presented to the voters. The problem here is the idea that lying to voters about what you believe is OK, not that voters might find out what you do believe (the original post at least allows for misrepresentation).

What if you make any u-turns on your own views that, in future years, might turn out to be deeply embarrassing?

12. Shatterface

Blogging should occasionally involve floating half-formed ideas or expressing ambivalence about certain issues and letting commentators test your opinion to destruction.

There should be an award for anyone who says ‘Yeah, hadn’t really thought that through…’

13. Heresiarch

“Anna is liberal and open-minded but politically she supports The Labour Party”

I like that “but”.

Clearly even in her Labour-supporting days she was aware that the party was closed-minded and illiberal.

“What if you make any u-turns on your own views that, in future years, might turn out to be deeply embarrassing?”

Then explain way you changed your mind. There has to be a good reason – ‘because it would get me elected’ excepted. People are not stupid (although the media can be) so they accept that people can undergo a journey, because they have as well. Life is learning, and learning gives you new perspectives.

What you write in your blog isn’t a problem.

It’s the daft interviews you do half-pissed with random websites when you were an undergraduate that come back to haunt you.

It’s the daft interviews you do half-pissed with random websites when you were an undergraduate that come back to haunt you.

I sshh…I won’ ever r’gr’t nothin’. I gotsh no r’gretch, ‘t all. YOU’RE ALL MY BESHT FRiendsh, but awl boshish are [the surnames of 18th Century German philosophers].

There are all sorts of people in parliament with colourful political pasts who have done quite well since. People aren’t particularly concerned about what politicians have done or said prior to going into politics, unless it’s particularly odious or is potentially or actually criminal/immoral.

This strikes me as another example of bloggers over estimating the importance of their own blogs.

Summary of advice: other people should publish whatever they like, without regard to their future employment prospects, because I like what they publish. This does seem to be advice that works out better for the person who gives it than the person who takes it.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. antonvowl

    Will blogging kill your career? http://bit.ly/aHp5g0 (not mine, it's already dead)

  2. bitoclass

    V interesting. Sadly for some of us in public sector it's literally 'yes' RT @antonvowl Will blogging kill your career? http://bit.ly/aHp5g0

  3. Lindsay Jackson

    RT @robertsharp59: New blog from me on @LibCon: 'Write a blog, kill your career?' http://bit.ly/aHp5g0 Thanks @antonvowl @bitoclass for the RTs

  4. Olly Fayers

    Very pertinent article from @robertsharp59 for anyone who worries that their online thoughts could later haunt them: http://bit.ly/9JRFnA.

  5. robertsharp59

    New blog from me on @LibCon: 'Write a blog, kill your career?' http://bit.ly/aHp5g0 Thanks @antonvowl @bitoclass for the RTs

  6. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by markjappleby: RT @libcon Write a blog, kill your career? http://ow.ly/1qfiwv

  7. robertsharp59

    @tom_watson I have just been writing about this @LibCon: http://bit.ly/9JRFnA. (RT A blogger runs for Senate: http://nyti.ms/ch5H1W)

  8. Julie Russell

    RT @libcon: Write a blog, kill your career? http://bit.ly/9oR2BQ

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  12. Jackart

    A super post at Liberal Conspiracy http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/12/write-a-blog-kill-your-career/

  13. Britblog Roundup #264 « Amused Cynicism

    […] Robert Sharp wonders if writing a blog might kill a political career. […]

  14. robertsharp59

    @BevaniteEllie should read my post about blogs and politics: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/12/write-a-blog-kill-your-career/

  15. robertsharp59

    @Andrew_Keenan yup, I had that thought too: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/12/write-a-blog-kill-your-career/





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