Guido's mob censorship makes the proper media

Somebody called ‘Bob’ left a comment on my post last night about the vandalism on Defra’s wiki, and it’s a brilliant point which deserves more prominence. Over to Bob:

Guido’s gang seem to forget that being a wiki, the content they helpfully amended had probably been written by non-Defra people who wanted to contribute to a debate.
By trying to attack Miliband and/or Defra, all they’ve achieved is an attack on the people who want to influence Government policy on the environment.
Effectively, they’ve tried to censor a forum for the discussion of a subject that affects us all. I don’t think they’ll have an impact on Defra’s approach to the wiki, but you can be sure that there will be some people who’ll’ve seen the wiki and been deterred by Guido’s fan’s comments. Not exactly a success for democracy, is it?

Couldn’t have put it better myself. Otherwise I would have.
Inevitably of course, this found its way into the proper media: this morning’s Times tries to turn it into a ‘humiliation for Cabinet minister’ story. I hardly think Miliband was ‘forced to creep back into his cyberhole’… it was a wiki, it has rollback functionality, this is the whole point.
Oh, and incidentally, a quick note to Jonathan Richards: this didn’t happen ‘a few hours after the site went live’… unless by ‘a few’ you mean ‘almost four hundred’. The wiki was launched three weeks ago.
There were also pieces on AP and AFP, making it a global story. Brilliant.

10 thoughts on “Guido's mob censorship makes the proper media”

  1. Nice, positive message. I hope when the site gets unlocked again, there will be more voices — with more constructive criticism — at the ready to help the project along.

  2. Lighten up, it happened after I noticed it. Miliband does not really care what the “citizens” think. The Wiki was a PR exercise in sham consultation written by his SpAds as can be seen from the Wiki records.
    Miliband has form: “He sees policy as something that has to be worked out and pushed through the policy forums, the conference, the Cabinet and the Commons. There’s no real participatory element in it.” – Benn Diaries (Free at Last!) p643
    The Wiki idea is a good one for collaborative projects. Politics is not collaborative. The reality is that politics is a clash of ideas and ideology as well as parties. Only a deluded wonk would overlook that non-trivial detail.
    Wiki’s can only effectively work as policy development tools when used by a community with common values. The policy making political class do not have common values.
    So if you invite those who oppose your ideas to contribute to refining them you should not be surprised when they seek to frustrate your objectives.
    Miliband is the wonk equivalent of the nutty professor. He seems surprised that his experiment has blown up in his face.

  3. Just seen your link. Have to laugh at the Associated Press reporter’s dead-pan piss take at the end.
    “A spokeswoman for Miliband’s department said officials were reviewing security of the site. ‘This in no way undermines our commitment as a department to dealing with serious issues and using new technology to pioneer an open style of government,’ she said, on condition of anonymity in line with policy.”

  4. Simon
    The vandals would probably argue that this project failed not because of their destructiveness but because an authority figure setting out policy and asking for refinements is not asking for opposition, only approval.
    This contract was a mealy-mouthed fait accompli, not an exercise in inclusion.
    Wikis have to be produced from the bottom up. The first draft should have been a blank sheet, not a page of babble, don’t you think?

  5. I’m not sure I do agree, Ian. For one thing, I don’t think the project necessarily has failed. It hasn’t strictly finished yet, and we’ve all learned a few things about open collaboration already. 🙂
    Was Miliband purely seeking approval for a ‘fait accompli’? Hardly. A wiki, by definition, is about showing your opposition (your word) to what’s already there, and proactively changing it. In the wiki world, approval is effectively invisible. And besides, if it was just about rubber-stamping a ‘fait accompli’, there are plenty of safer and better established ways to do that.
    ‘Babble’ or not, I still think somebody has to produce the first draft as a starting point. And as the individual nominated (and indeed paid) to represent the nation on these matters, surely the Secretary of State should be the one to do so.

  6. If I’d deleted the original document and replaced it with my own full of penalties for water companies who let their pipes leak and jail terms for persistent polluters am I a vandal or a legitimate dissenter?
    If that move had been unacceptable (and I suspect it would have been) then this is an unsuitable use of the wiki format. Approval is invisible, but opposition is impossible.
    Open a forum, invite comments, great, but a wiki for something as important and contentious as the way citizens and government will protect the environment? What were they thinking?

  7. Fair point, Ian. It wouldn’t exactly make for a good debate, would it. But if the experiment highlights the deficiencies of the (out of the box) wiki approach – and it may well be doing precisely that – then it’s been a successful experiment.
    Maybe there’s a way to give multiple starting points, and see if/how they might converge. Or some kind of structured Q&A process – a much narrower subject every week, or an interactive questionnaire where your answers affect the questions you get asked. Maybe it’s a twist on the wiki idea, or maybe the right tool just doesn’t exist yet.
    Or maybe UK politics is too confrontational for any kind of consensus-based approach. I suppose if you really dislike one or more of the current lot’s policies, you get a chance to delete the whole lot once every four or five years.

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