Thoughts on being 'outed' as ex-BBC staff in comments on The Telegraph

 by Martin Belam, 21 August 2007

My dabbling with community interactions over on The Telegraph's websites haven't exactly been a smooth ride so far. Previously I've had my comments edited to change their context - although The Telegraph very quickly moved to restore them when I blogged about it.

My latest experience was over the weekend when I left a comment about the BBC vs CIA Wikipedia editing propaganda war - as I call it anyway - where I was immediately outed as an ex-member of BBC staff in the comment that followed mine.

My comments and outing on The Telegraph
Transparency needed here too!
Andrew from Biased BBC blog 18 Aug 2007 15:06
Martin, comment 7, is being disingenuous - the issue here is the sheer hypocrisy of the BBC for rushing to criticise the CIA over 'their' edits, whilst not even mentioning the BBC's own, arguably worse, edits. That is the issue. Perhaps Martin, in the interests of transparency, it might also be worth mentioning that you are an ex-(and possibly future) BBC employee (and defender of the corporation on your own blog) too!

The comments were then referenced back on the Biased BBC blog itself as a footnote to an article that was chiefly about John Redwood's treatment at the hands of BBC News. More in keeping with our usual rules of engagement, I was at least described there as a "reasonable chap".

Reasonable or not though, I was quite actually quite irritated by it all. I think it provides an interesting insight into the mindset of some of the people who contribute to the Biased BBC blog, and is perhaps even an example of unwitting institutional bias in itself.

The subtext of the comment is pretty clear - I've hidden the fact that I have an association with the BBC, and I've then defended the Corporation.

Which would be fine, if it was true.

Except that my original comment doesn't defend the BBC's reporting in any way whatsoever.

It is almost as if someone has recognised my name, skimmed through what I wrote, and then jumped to the conclusion they were always going to draw about what I might write anyway.

In fact, citing my own experience of editing Wikipedia pages from within the Sony firewall, I described the reporting of any Wikipedia edits from within corporate firewalls as "hyperventiliating".

Well, I would have done if I had got the spelling correct anyway:

Teacup storm surely?
Martin Belam 17 Aug 2007 15:43
When I was at Sony I used to edit some Wikipedia entries on my favourite bands in my slacktime using their computer and IP address. Does that mean Sony have a policy of editing Wikipedia entries about artists not on their label or on their label depending on who it was? No, it just mean [sic] they had a bored employee at times. I daresay that is true of most of the edits people are hypervetilating [sic] about - it isn't a product of policy, it is a product of bored office workers who have an interest in the areas of Wikipedia about the kind of things they do.

As I hope I made clear on yesterday I think making childish edits to Wikipedia using a BBC computer is stupid. I think writing an article about other people doing it without checking whether BBC examples were going to come back to bite you was pretty dumb reporting.

Although interestingly someone posted in the comments here yesterday that they had seen the George Wanker Bush edit used in a presentation at the BBC as an example of how self-healing Wikipedia was - make of that what you will.

The point I've been trying to make, regardless of whether you think I'm 'spinning' for the BBC or not, is that I don't actually care whether it is the BBC reporting on the CIA, B-BBC reporting on the BBC, or the Telegraph reporting on B-BBC's reporting of the BBC's reporting about the CIA. On the whole I simply find 'random bored employees around the world use the internet at work' doesn't actually make for a particularly compelling story in the first place, regardless of who they work for.

My Telegraph comments experience is an interesting lesson for me though.

I am always pretty free and easy with posting my personal details on the internet - after all, it is one of my principle routes for attracting new work, and so I have to be pretty damn contactable. Let's be honest here, if you are reading this entry on the site rather than via RSS, then my mobile phone number is on the page.

However, in this instance I've clearly lost control over exactly how much of my personal information is published on The Telegraph's site.

I can't blame the paper for that, which is why I didn't dream of reporting the comment to the moderators - trying to get it removed would only look like I'm trying to hide something anyway.

However, the question posed does go down to one of integrity and internet etiquette.

Should I declare my client-list every time I leave a comment under my real name on somebody else's website? Or only if the topic features one of those clients?

Or, is the fact that I always use my real name on the internet and can therefore be easily Googled or Facebooked transparent enough?

That was the position that I had held up until now - that, unlike many of the people contributing to the site, using my real name was a significant enough disclosure on a message board like The Telegraph's.

I'm going to have to have a bit of a re-think about that.

In the meantime, it looks like I'm no longer able to gradually get a feel for and get integrated into the Telegraph comments community without baggage from elsewhere being bought to the table - whether I chose to bring it or not.

Perhaps I should have just opened up a sock puppet account instead?


Would you telegraph comments have been any less valid with only your first name, bearing in mind the likely rabid right wing, anti-bbc nature of the audience?

In fairness, I've found The Telegraph's contributors to be pretty calm and relatively troll-free so far. It is certainly a nicer place to hang around than the 'community' section of the Express site - which I would describe as rabid at times. I think you generally end up with the messageboards / forums / community that you deserve according to how you police them - and The Telegraph seems to treat their online audience with intelligence and decent moderation, and it shows.

Hi Martin. I'm about to dash out, so this is briefer than I'd like. I am sorry to have caused you irritation (at least beyond the "yeah, I should've mentioned that" sort) - it was meant to be a lighthearted tweak. You have hardly been outed though - your work for the BBC is one of your defining features. Googling you (without quotes even!) gets result no. 1, beginning "A new media geek who left the BBC...". Your comments at the Telegraph were downplaying the hypocrisy aspect of the BBC's coverage of 'Wikigate' - Wiki-editing is a storm in a teacup. Making a big play about the CIA doing it when you're own people have done it (and at least as bad) is not a storm in a teacup!

Hi Andrew, thanks for stopping by to comment. I do appreciate your intentions weren't to upset me, and I'm not horrified by it, it just gives me cause to re-evaluate how I approach going into a new community space like The Telegraph's.

For me, I guess the difference is that, yes, you could Google me and find out about what I do and where I've done it - fine - that's why I use my real name - but that is slightly different from having it thrust into the spotlight without me even necessarily knowing.

And, a lighthearted tweak back, I can forgive you for all that, but 'Wikigate'? 'Wikigate'???? Surely the laziest way of refering to any scandal - it should be banned. What on earth did people do for shorthand to indicate a scandal before 'Watergate'-gate? ;-)

As any Torygraph reader would tell you, before Watergate, there was no sleaze, scandal, corruption or crime, and if you stepped out of line you'd get a clip round the ear and like it.

Heh heh, as I'm often moved to comment, hanging wasn't such a good deterrent that you didn't actually have to hang people, was it?

Perhaps someone should add 'Wikigate' to this page:

...which is surely one of the most genius Wikipedia pages?

P.S The thing I don't get about 'Wikigate' is that it doesn't take much knowledge to work out that you're actually MORE anonymous editing Wikipedia pages with a login than without one.

If the people who had made these edit had bothered to create a quick account first, they would never have been caught out in this way.

P.S The thing I don't get about 'Wikigate'

What, you mean beyond "Man sets up site anyone can edit, then anyone edits it" being considered news?

Love the Wikipedia page though - Fajitagate! Who knew?

Heh, heh, there is an excellent follow-up to the Telegraph Wikigate blog article in the Press Gazette - which has tracked down the entertaining wiki edits coming out of The Telegraph's HQ

Keep up to date on my new blog