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 defeatist. 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 surprisingly 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.
Only, not really. The website is clearly several years old (it has plenty of <table> tags for layout, an archaeological 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 practised blogger would have remembered when and where they endorsed political 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.
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.