Aug 18 2006

A blog is for life …

Published by at 4:34 pm under Comms,Digital

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Having started off my blog wondering about bird flu, I want to round off this week by talking about foot-in-mouth disease – an ailment which seems to remain endemic in the PR industry, despite the fact that we all really ought to know better.

TheRegister reported yesterday that cellphone giant Orange had suspended its Community Affairs Manager for some comments elsewhere on the web which are, depending on your point of view, at best spectacularly ill-advised, and at worst downright offensive. Perhaps not a great career move for Inigo Wilson – in fact one wonders how he’ll play this one down in future job interviews.

Wal-Mart’s Andrew Young, at 74, might find this less of an immediate worry. But after this week’s racist tirade (thanks, Wonkette, for the tip-off) I doubt he’ll be working in community relations again any time soon.

The danger, for individuals in even semi-public life, of shooting themselves in the foot in this way is nothing new. Margaret Thatcher told the Conservative Party Conference, around about the same time I was born, that “It will be years, and not in my lifetime, before a woman will lead the party or become Prime Minister”. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were first elected to Parliament in 1983 on an anti-nuclear ticket, and are now full square behind both replacing Trident and stimulating a new generation of privately-funded nuclear power stations. None of these three political careers has suffered irredeemable damage as a result of the odd policy inconsistency or off-the-cuff remark.

The difference, in the Web 2.0 era, is the immediacy and accessibility of what we write or say. A flippant interview comment or heat-of-the moment blog post can be picked up by a multitude of search engines in a matter of minutes. Emails are even worse, taking on a life of their own the moment you hit ‘send’ – we’ve all seen them.

Which is why, in my brief blogging career, I’ve taken to “sanity-checking” my ideas before posting them. The lines between provoking discussion, sparking controversy and causing offence are blurred and easily-crossed, and an out-of-context comment could potentially cost today’s bloggers dear a decade or two hence. So, to the small number of you who’ve become my voice of reason, thank you.

Back to bird ‘flu: I’m told its spread will be dictated by migratory patterns, and that as such we should all start to worry again next month. In the meantime, let’s all try to avoid foot-in-mouth disease.

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