Blogs as Records: Damage Done?

It’s no secret that I am a social media addict. My current drug of choice is Twitter, which I’ve discussed previously as part of the records management blog. As you may or may not know, I’m in the process of researching the records management issues surrounding the Edmonton City Centre airport plebiscite for a term paper, and when I checked Twitter this morning– as I’m wont to do– I was surprised by a new and interesting development in the form of links to new commentary.

A blogger claiming to be a reporter for the Seattle Times blogged about the decision by city council to move forward with the closure following the failed petition drive by Envision Edmonton. This blogger, apparently named “Darren Holmes”, put his own spin on the existing documents, facts and hearsay about the issue that portrays the council decision as some nefarious conspiracy, and casts Envision Edmonton as well as all Edmontonians as victims and dupes [1].

Some crack investigative reporting by local Journal reporter Todd Babiak revealed that this individual’s claims of authority were bogus, but not before the blog post went viral [2, 3]. This development begs the question: how do you classify blogs as records?

There are a number of issues initially that we need to consider—for the sake of brevity, I’ll limit myself to the most obvious one.  Outwardly “Darren” has no connection with the municipal government, Envision Edmonton, the airport authority or Yes For Edmonton.  Unlike the petition records, reports, proposals, letters and emails traded internally and between these organizations, Darren’s blog entry (and Todd Babiak’s column) exist outside the purview of these involved parties.  As an individual, Darren is merely exercising his right to free speech, a right we are proud to respect in our society; his is only one opinion amid a vast sea of others, and is thus, ostensibly, transient.  And yet it has indelibly made its mark within this discourse, and could be potentially damaging to other individuals and organizations (some of which I’ve just mentioned), particularly as local residents make their way to the ballot box.  So how do you classify the blog entry?  How do you control it?  Is it even worth qualifying as a record worthy of notice?  Considering the furor it created in my Twitter feed, and more generally in the community of players and swirling informational landscape surrounding the Edmonton City Centre controversy, it’s clear that it has forced itself into the debate for better or worse.

One way to deal with the blog entry as a record is to litigate.  According to Darren’s most recent update, Mayor Mendel’s representation has begun to do just that, by threatening legal action for slander [4].  Given Darren’s anonymity, the veracity of the claim is highly dubious, but such a move would certainly be an option for Mandel.  According to Babiak’s column, the Seattle Times is also concerned for being associated with Darren, particularly since no “Darren Holmes” has ever written for them.  The Times would be within their rights to sue Darren for lying about his connection to the newspaper.  Envision Edmonton should also be anxious about being associated with this person, as the episode continues to play out on the public stage, since for many readers it might seem that Darren represents their cause; since any truth to Darren’s credentials has been refuted, such an association could be very damaging for Envision.

Two more methods of dealing with the blog present themselves.  First, to respond to it in kind in a public format, as Babiak has done with his column in The Edmonton Journal.  The other is to try and ignore it; “don’t feed the trolls” is a common saying in web culture that refers to people that comment online for the sole purpose of being inflammatory.  Neither of these methods can make the blog entry go away, however, and even litigation can’t erase the impact it has already had on public perception.

________________________

References:

[1] darrensbigscoop.  (2010, October 13.) Catching Up. Darren’s Big Scoop. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from http://darrensbigscoop.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/8/

[2] Babiak, T. (2010, October 13.) Blog from fake reporter doesn’t add to airport debate. The Edmonton Journal. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from http://www.edmontonjournal.com/business/Blog+from+fake+reporter+doesn+airport+debate/3662096/story.html

[3]Babiak, T. (2010, October 12.) Anonymity, Fraud and No Fun. That Internet Thing. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from http://communities.canada.com/edmontonjournal/blogs/internetthing/archive/2010/10/12/anyonymity-fraud-and-no-fun.aspx

[4] darrensbigscoop. (2010, October 7.) Developer’s on Final Approach For Downtown Airport Land. Darren’s Big Scoop. Retrieved on October 13, 2010 from http://darrensbigscoop.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/developers-on-final-approach-for-downtown-airport-land/

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