Blogging, Civil Serf and pseudonymity

March 15, 2008 at 1:03 pm 3 comments

Leading Kiwi blogger Russell Brown was quite complimentary about the blog launched by the State Services Commission. He made particular mention of the guidelines for staff blogging that are also available to everyone under a Creative Commons licence.

Blogging guidelines are a good thing for both employer and employee. They help make clearer the boundaries and expectations. Navigating the minefield of blogging as an employee is hard and therefore guidelines are a real must to even get started.

Blogging as a government employee is even harder (see a previous post about this). Yet, the risks have to be taken by both government and employee if more two-way open government is to be achieved.

On the other side of the world, the UK Government has also resolved to issue guidelines for blogging and social networking by civil servants. It’s difficult to take the claim at face value that the move is not connected with the case of Civil Serf.

Civil Serf is the pseudonym for a 33-year old Londoner civil servant, thought to be working for the Department for Work and Pensions. Her nom de plume reflects her intent to slag off the government and civil service. There’s always a ready audience for insider revelations and dirt, especially if it is about big corporates and governments.

I will, however, point out that the word serf comes from the Latin servus, meaning slave. Civil Serf is hardly bound to and required to serve the government- presumably she made a choice to work in the public service. And part of that choice was to adhere to a set of rules and regulations.

What about freedom of speech? Sure, that’s critical and legally protected but in this case I think Civil Serf probably breached the spirit if not letter of UK’s Civil Service Code. No employer, government or private, is going to take kindly being put down in public. A recent example is the worker fired by Warehouse for her comments on Bebo.

Anyhow, Civil Serf’s blog has disappeared after the Sunday papers on 9th March wrote about her. Since November last year, her comments were tellingly often quoted by mainstream journalists working for the Telegraph and Times. There’s a good video of the story at puffbox.

Almost universally, comments to stories about the Civil Serf saga at various online sites are on her side, praising her for an insider’s view of “government ineptitude and hypocrisy.”

While there are merits to both sides of the arguments about Civil Serf, there is no doubt that the Internet provides a powerful tool for people to air their views pseudonymously. And, while not an unbounded right, freedom of speech is a cherished right that is benefiting hugely from the Internet’s inherent support for pseudonymity.


Entry filed under: government, NZ, privacy, trust, UK.

SSC: official moves Aussie for privacy

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. No se admiten funcionarios críticos | K-Government  |  March 17, 2008 at 7:06 am

    […] dentro de la estrategia para mejorar ahora parece que se ha desinflado totalmente. A raíz del éxito del blog de “Civil Serf” Londrés ha decidido que: Los funcionarios de la administración pública sólo podrán tener sus […]

  • 2. Ade Magnaye  |  March 17, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    It’s really hard to blog about work or even make comments about anything remotely related to it, because it might just get back to you. But if you must, you’re right, a private blog with a pseudonym would be great to use. I, for one, use the privacy features of i.PH where I can make entries viewable only to a few people.

  • 3. Vikram  |  March 17, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Thanks Ade.

    It is a hard balance and with the Web a relatively new medium, it will take time to work out just where the balance lies.

    Having blogging guidelines helps but obviously not if a person intends to be critical about their employer.

    Liked your blog, especially your obituary!


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