Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Streisand Effect

Mark R on the demise of the NightJack blog.

There's a wonderful little phrase that previously came to the public eye: The Streisand Effect. It comes from the self-defeating attempts of that secretive diva Ms Streisand to try and prevent a cartographer photograph the coast which holds her residence. By trying to silence the miniscule amount of attention, she ended up bringing upon herself far more attention by fighting than she had by accepting it.

In Britain, meanwhile, the NightJack blog, the work of a previously relatively anonymous policeman has been closed. Closed because... The Times insisted on revealing the identity of the writer, who had made considerable efforts and a delibrate decision to retain his anonymity.

So... what have we now got? The public have lost a fascinating, continuous piece of vital and insightful writing. The Times got two pages of drivel that sold not one extra copy but pleased a nosey and disrespectful features editor.

Anonymity is important to me, as it will be to anyone. It would be of interest to anyone who would find themselves the recipient of unwanted and malignant behaviour. If you've got nothing to hide, you may have nothing to fear, but why then, should you be open to everyone? What happened to the right to privacy?

As someone who was personally and professionally crucified for blogging, with a vicious and abusive corporate malpractice and some not inconsiderable personal loss for daring to be honest, I say that the decision for anonymity should belong with only one person: the subject themselves.

Now the blog is gone, and replaced with nothing. What has this reveal benefited? Nobody and nothing.

All it has done – and the ruling of Judge Eady of Tenterden, kent proven – is that your cannot pass comment upon anything. If you wish to reveal what you feel is important information about a situation you may be aware of, but would not wish to identify yourself for fear of reprisal, well... you better shut up and stay quiet. This is the logical extension of the ruling. Compliance. A code of silence. A closed shop.

On one hand, The Times has recently published many pieces claiming that both the MP Expense affair, and the Iraq war investigation, should both be conducted in secret. "It may encourage greater candour by witnesses." The Times also said, of the recent Iran Tweeting broohaha..."people can stay anonymous if they want to".

And yet, if The Times needs to fill a couple of pages, the people cannot stay anonymous. This is not just a violation of the social contract of trust, but also a distinct threat. Anyone who writes about situations and has privileged access that would be compromised by revealing their identity – and thus exposing them to threat and ruin – is now silenced by fear.

The writings of doctors, nurses, ambulancemen, policemen, firemen, anyone, is under threat. No longer will anyone feel free to comment upon anything, or reveal information that may be in the public interest for fear of reprisal by the 'wronged' organisation. An organisation or business that fears revelation of it's working practices often has something it wishes to hide.

These vast, faceless, bland and anonymous UberMegaUltraCorps hide behind their processes and procedures and live in terror of anything that could ever make them accountable for what they actually do. The publication of a frank expose regarding the actual operation of the fabric of our society is by no means a violation worthy of being publically smeared and, in all probability, professionally blacklisted. At no time were any live cases publically identifiable: nothing was at risk.

In these circumstances, there are absolutely no viable arguments for the exposure of the 'real life' identity of the writer, and a compelling reason – the public interest – to maintain the anonymity of the writer.

The court has spoken, and the message is clear: Be quiet. Be obedient. Behave. Shut up. Or be ruined.


socialist sam said...

I don't agree with the right to full anonymity. The net is also full of vicious bullying hidden under the cloak of anonymity and that can turn out seriously dodgy. I'd have thought that a person of liberal meaning would take that into consideration.

However, I will say that the way The Times set out to destroy a person's career was simply vile. For the man behind NightJack to find a new job and rebuild a life it may take a change of identity and a flight to Polinesia or somewhere that remote.

James D said...

Sir David Eady,
Goodshill Farm,
Cranbrook Road,
TN30 6UN.
(01580) 763 644
(01580) 765 136

There. I said it.

Now boycott The Times! Hope the bar stewards go bust!