Wednesday, July 28, 2010

“Never erase the past”

The very first issue of 2600 magazine I ever saw had the following quote displayed on an illustration of a computer monitor on the cover:
Never erase the past

Today, local newscaster Barb Higgins entered the race for Mayor in Calgary. Unfortunately, she or her campaign team have chosen to hide her old Twitter feed.

Now, admittedly, there was nothing particularly interesting in the feed (not very many tweets on there — I had read through it a few days earlier when rumours of her candidacy started cropping up again). I doubt there was any “sinister intent” in this action. They may very well have just been trying to prevent people from confusing her old Twitter account with the new one for the campaign.

But, for me, that’s not the issue. The issue is transparency and accountability of those in, or vying for, public office.

Rather than leaving up an inconsequential record of some things she had previously said publicly, she has chosen to try to wipe the slate clean. If this is how she treats the record of the past on things that wouldn’t have any negative impact for her, what could we then expect of her in future if there is something consequential she does or says that she later wants hidden from the public memory?

I believe strongly in the value of putting everything on the table “warts and all.” I think it’s a critical practice on the part of everyone, especially politicians, if we are to have any chance at a well-functioning democracy.

(This motivates one of my core long-term plans for the Calgary Democracy project. I hope to develop it into an ongoing archive of all public information about our politicians — both candidates and those actually elected.)

9 comments:

Mason said...

Anyone that bases their voting decision on someone deleting what is described as "an inconsequential record of some things she had previously said publicly" is an idiot.

There weren't even any warts, she threw out some old trash.

There is zero story here.

Paul R. Pival said...

Of course Google never forgets: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2FNewsChickBarb

Grant Neufeld said...

Mason — you missed my point. What politicians publicly say and do should be retained in the public record — no matter how boring, inconsequential or irrelevant.

People should have as much information as possible to judge those who want to be our elected representatives. I find _any_ efforts to throw out the past to be very troubling, no matter how “inconsequential”.

Mason said...

I understand your opinion, and I appreciate that someone has to have it in order for society to stay balanced. I just think that being dogmatic and saying "everything you've said publicly must be retained forever" (not your words, of course) isn't productive. What about an unflattering picture that she posted on Facebook? Would you judge someone for deleting that too?

Grant Neufeld said...

Mason, I do think that everything that politicians say publicly should be kept permanently. Note my use of “public” — what people do in their private lives is their own business (to the extent it doesn’t harm or impact others).

So, to your example of a photo on Facebook: If it was a public Facebook page then, yes, the photo should be retained. If it was a person’s private Facebook, then it’s not part of the public record and shouldn’t matter.

It is, of course, a little more complicated in this example because Facebook has serious problems with privacy and drawing the line between personal and public.

Mason said...

Just to clarify, are you saying:

That she shouldn't have deleted it?
That she shouldn't even be able to do it?
That we should judge her action as indicative of her views on public policy?
All of the above?

Grant Neufeld said...

I’m certainly saying that she shouldn’t have deleted it.

“Shouldn’t be able to” is more complicated, because there could be negative consequences to non-political individuals in implementing that on sites like Twitter.

The judgement I am making is that she has now shown a willingness to remove things from the public record. I don’t think it indicates anything else about “her views on public policy” — of which we know very little at this point given her stated intention to hold off on declaring any policy positions until September.

Mason said...

Yeah, I worded that third thing poorly.

I agree to some extent.

Making a judgement is fair, any action by anyone causes us to judge constantly, politicians rightfully more so, but I do think context is key. My judgement of someone depends on what it is they delete. You argue that it doesn't matter, that anything out there should stay there. That's pretty black and white and I don't think it needs to be that way.

What if it wasn't a whole feed, but an individual tweet, linking to a pot-roast recipe? And let's say you happened to have noticed. Would you have posted this blog? I assume not because even though you feel it's black and white, it is not. It's always about what we feel is acceptable, and in this case I'm willing to let it slide.

Marcus Riedner said...

I wonder if the problem stems from the general confusion in society over the anonymity ( false ) and privacy ( very false ) of online activities. If you're doing it online you're in the public sphere, and your anonymity is only as good as your ability to hide your IP address.

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