Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Government to Monitor Blogs

The Financial Times reports that the government is about to set up a 'blog monitoring unit' (I kid you not). Another excuse to employ a few more people on the public sector payroll, I guess.
A project by the COI’s Media Monitoring Unit is considering how to add blogs to its regular summaries of government coverage in mainstream press or television. The summaries are used across Whitehall from ministers to departmental communications teams, often as an early warning service on issues rising up the public’s agenda. The blog project was in part prompted by departments’ concerns at being caught unawares by debates spread on the web.

It reflects the growing media profile of the format and the fact some individual bloggers are moving from niche self-publishers to establishment opinion-formers. Clarence Mitchell, director of the MMU, said though there was debate about the objectivity of some bloggers, several
were taken increasingly seriously within government
. Mr Mitchell said: “There’s a whole level of debate taking place online which simply didn’t exist before and departments feel they need to be fully engaged in that.” He insisted any future service by the unit would not intervene in monitored blogs. However individual departments which took any service might choose to reply directly to bloggers’ criticisms – as they would any commentator – or address points through general media statements.


Pilot studies have looked at pensioners’ online reactions to a recent budget and internet opinions on counter-terrorism measures. They have tracked web traffic generated as well as the tone of discussions. The blog monitoring would need a sufficient number of individual government departments to agree to cover the extra costs involved. If this happened, MMU estimates a service could operate by the end of the year.

A growing number of companies already monitor blogs in sectors such as technology where online product reviewers can be highly influential. Universal McCann, the media buyer, recently estimated that more than 50 per cent of UK respondents to an online survey said they had read a blog within the last six months and about 20 per cent had posted comments on their own. The media buyer said this lagged far behind China and south Korea where blogging – mostly
devoid of politics in China – was more widespread, and less likely to be seen as self-interested as it is in the west. The vast majority of blogs in the UK and the US are abandoned after a relatively short period of time or read by only a handful of friends or contacts.


I do know that about a year ago Conservative Campaign Headquarters added blogs to the Shadow Cabinet daily media monitoring brief. I was rather horrified at the time. I guess it is sensible for policymakers of all persuasions to keep tabs on the blogs of people like the Taxpayers' Alliance, Our Kingdom and some of the think tanks blogs, but I would question whether a daily read of THIS blog is a wise use of taxpayers' money!

37 comments:

Dr Blue said...

Good to see blogs are having an impact. Maybe this government will listen, or at least listen in and pretend to care.

I wondered why that nice Mr O'Brien was vising us recently.

canvas said...

People power :)

The internet has changed the face of politics.

Tom Ogg said...

That pink dog blog is extraordinary.

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

Dear Gordon
If your reading this for f's sake end mass immigration before mass immigration ends us.

Matt Wardman said...

Sorry to hijack your thread, Iain.

Is it me or is your main email full/down?

Tom FD said...

I suppose that's another publicly-funded expansion of the Labour campaign R&D department then... and to think some people are concerned they're too broke to fight an election!

Trumpeter Lanfried said...

Reading blogs may give the government a much better idea of what ordinary people are thinking than talking to pressure groups like Greenpeace and the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Sooner or later, of course, they will try to regulate them. That's what governments do.

Anonymous said...

So what is the difference between a newspaper comment piece and a blog post?

tapestry said...

It means they're already monitoring blogs but now wish to admit that they are doing it and hit back occasionally.

Might be tempting to run a few spoofs to waste aeons of their time. Let's see. Pink Dog might have some suggestions for that.

tapestry said...

Talk of the devil. Just had a referral from your Redwood-BBC thread Iain with address bbc.co.uk bang on 10pm.

Never had them look in before.

AussieGooner79 said...

Not quite sure what the point of this post is Iain - surely the Government has a legitimate right to find out what is being discussed in the media? They already produce cuttings from all the local and national papers, so why shouldn't they add prominent blogs to that?

You often give the impression that you think that blogs should and indeed already are challenging the dominance of the traditional mainstream media. You can't have it both ways I'm afraid.

chatterbox said...

Iain, there is a difference between the Conservatives or the Libdems monitoring the blogsphere, they are paying for it out of their own funds.

For the government to do so is to my mind Labour getting the taxpayer to fund the same facility for them. Labour have cut back considerable on their own staff levels to help ease their financial crisis, if they want an early warning system to spot or monitor issues that are becoming a hot topic then they can pay for it themselves too.
I am all for *government* as an elected body having a conversation with the voters, but I worry that this is being abused and becoming a Labour propaganda tool?
I also dislike the idea that we might see the kind of bullying tactics used that have now made the BBC a lot less impartial or brave enough to challenge the government record.

Ralph said...

It's nice to see that the Government will be using taxpayer's money to see if their propaganda is reported 'properly' on blogs.

Next blogs will be 'regulated'.

The Remittance Man said...

I was under the impression we were being monitored already - indeed I seems to remember posting somthing before christmas about a Home Office Unit that was supposedly being established to keep an eye on blogs.

Is this wasteful duplication or another example of rehashing news on the part of the MSM?

Anonymous said...

Haven't they heard of Google Alerts?

Wrinkled Weasel said...

A lot of people, who are interested in politics and society, say what they really think here. I would have thought that was a good enough reason to keep an eye on it.

Plus its a free source of good quotes and soundbites.

I should be charging.

Anonymous said...

I am a reasonably well-known blogger, and that kind of media analysis pays my bills, so for once I am posting anonymously....

I have done blog analysis for a quango, and one of the companies I freelance for work for has worked with more than one of the major government departments. Have a look at the AMEC site for a list of companies in this line of work, and thence to their client lists - many, many public sector organisations do media monitoring and analysis.

Apart from not wishing to have my lunch snatched away from me, I also think that any major organisation, be it public or private sector should be keeping close tabs on what the media has to say about it, and whether we as bloggers like it or not, some of us do have an impact on the wider debate, and thus any decent comms team should be aware of what is going on in the less formal media, and have strategies for, as the mood takes it, working with or against it.

John Trenchard said...

monitoring blogs is a good idea - no so much the content per se (nobody would have enough time to monitor ALL of them) - but more a case of monitoring how stories spread and go "viral" - that is a useful indicator of public interest.

for example Iain, - if you did a blogpost and it generated over 1,000 comments and was linked and reposted on hundreds of other blogs, then its obvious that the story you broke matters.

it would be silly not to monitor such activity.

however - and this is the big caveat - didnt Thatcher not bother reading the "newspapers"?

english democrat said...

Mr Iain, the ZANULAB trolls have not been invading Tory blogs for nothing more than to pass the hours away in their gravytrain jobs! NuLabour are trying to control the MSM agenda and now they are trying to set the blog agenda! dozens of "media moniors" work all the time to plant stories and pretend to be disenchanted Tories Etc because they know that the Tory high command take notice! Why do ZANULAB want to set up a monitoring office when they have already been doing it for a while?
Look Iain, the marxist training handbook says that to defeat an enemy(which is what you are) you must spread lies and disafection and rumour in your enemies ranks! Now you may think that I am being paranoid but look at the evidence!
NuLabour are fighting dirty! They have the BBC,the Smith institute and horrible gangs like searhlight to do their dirty work and still they arnt satisfied, still they want more in the form of this new "KGB lite" WHEN are the Tories going to fight back? At what point will the Tories accept the truth of what they are up against? The socialist hands are closing round the Tories throats and soon it will be too late to fight back!

Phil Taylor said...

Last year the COI spent £338 million on behalf of the government on ads last year. This is a rise of 5% over the previous year.

The level of spending by New Labour is 3 times what it was under Major. They have managed to spike ad spending up for both of their incumbent elections in 2001 and 2005. There was no spike in 1997.

For details follow:

http://philtaylor.org.uk/?p=747

Anonymous said...

I trust nulab will not expose any dedicated public servant to the hazards of blog-reading without full immersion in the need for diversisity, celebrating difference, and sensitivity awareness training.

english democrat said...

Dear Iain,

The socialists have created a monster in the form of a propaganda machine worthy of the USSR! This monster is getting hungrier all the time! Its time to kill the monster BEFORE it kills us all!
This monster knows that the last refuge of free speech is the blogosphere and IF that is killed off then what is left? NOTHING!

Tuscan Tony said...

Sounds like good news to me - blogs moving out from opinion backwaters to mainstream has to be a few more straws on self-justifying BBC camel's back.

Guthrum said...

Monitoring = surveillance, this lot have no interest in democracy, once every four/five years is a little too much for them.

Anonymous said...

I can assure you, Iain, that government department press offices also monitor blogs, so perhaps putting it through the COI might actually save money.

But I guess that isn't as good a story.

Richard said...

Not only does the MoD routinely monitor our site, it has joined our forum. It has also posted several comments from the Minister of Defence Procurement, responding to our posts, thereby engaging in debate initiated by our blog (issues ignored completely by the MSM and most other blogs).

That the goverment is mooting formalising this process, therefore, is entirely wholesome. It not only indicates that we are being taken seriously (some of us) but is also a small step in breaking the monopoly of the MSM over opinion.

The Huntsman said...

I note this in particular from the FT Report:

"Clarence Mitchell, director of the MMU, said though there was debate about the objectivity of some bloggers, several were taken increasingly seriously within government.

Mr Mitchell said: “There’s a whole level of debate taking place online which simply didn’t exist before and departments feel they need to be fully engaged in that.”

I seem to recall that Labour had a 'Rebuttal Unit' which would pounce upon and attempt to trash any negative report: may we now anticipate a Blogging Rebuttal Unit? If so, they are going to be very very busy!

Roger Thornhill said...

I am glad they are monitoring blogs. The scumbags might learn something - that their ridiculous lies are not believed by all, for a start.

On a general point, Chatterbox, 10:18 does correctly point out that New Labour feels it IS the government. Even before they got into power, those people had no idea of the difference.

They are Socialists, after all.

Chuck Unsworth said...

It's a very short step indeed from 'monitoring' to 'control'.

Any bets on which way this will go?

Time for a move offshore, I think.

Greater Manchester Fabians said...

It is a positive sign that blogs are being taken more seriously!
http://gtrmancfabians.blogspot.com/

Graf von Straf Hindenburg said...

Bull s--t!
You know the thing which galls me the most? It's not so much the surveillance and shut down tactics or the paranoid fear that bloggers can say what they wish, it's the lyng hypocrisy of pretending it's for another purpose.

gengiz the kahn said...

Isn't this the same government which is trying to limit soldiers' comments on blogs and websites about how useless their equipment is, and how hopeless Twa Jobs Des is at his job?

Fidothedog said...

Just look on the bright side there may come a point when these people report back on government policy to ministers, roll on the day when one turns around to Brown and says

"Well according to the blogs, you are inept and most of the people think your an ass."

Alwyn ap Huw said...

So how do I apply for one of these jobs where I get paid mega bucks for reading blogs?

Yak40 said...

Some of the forerunners to today's blogs in the US were harrassed by the Clinton administration. Hillary realised the power of the 'net very quickly and tried to establish "Gatekeepers" and so on.
She failed, this time.

Anonymous said...

This is, of course, the same Clarence Mitchell who was seconded by Downing Street to be the McCann family's 'official spokesman'. Now was that control freakery or what?

Casual Observer said...

Bring back Alistair Campbell. All is forgiven...

The best source for Gordon's secret police is taxi drivers. They know where you are going...