What's going on with a "name and shame" New Zealand blog is raising some interesting questions about the power of blogs and what to do when they're negatively directed at an organization.
The CYFSWatch Blog was started by a man whose daughter was poorly treated last year by Child, Youth and Family Services staff as she tried to give her baby up for adoption. His mission:
This blogsite is dedicated to all those people who have been bullied, intimidated, or "familially raped" by the Department of Child Youth, & Family: people, it's time to get your power back. Please email any and all "name and shame" stories to email@example.com, and we will publish them - uncensored. Photos of any and all offending parties are welcome, together with private and public addresses, contact details, car registrations, etc. Your anonimity is guaranteed (unless you choose to publish under your own name) - theirs is not!
Posts on the site are brutal--naming names, describing case workers in some pretty extreme terms (" . . . a troll of a woman . . . a CYFS feminazi par excellence"). They have also promised to post photos and home addresses of the staff they are shaming. Clearly these are people who are furiously angry and have decided to take matters into their own hands.
The blog might have remained only a tiny corner of the blogosphere, unknown to most people, if the head of the CYFS hadn't found out about it and gone public in a big way, vowing to do everything within his power to get the site down. This naturally blew traffic to the blog out the door as the story hit the papers and readers wanted to find out what was being said that was so bad it required the blog to be censored.
Currently a battle is raging in New Zealand and in the blogosphere between those who want the blog taken down and those who believe that censoring it is a blow against freedom of expression. Some are even arguing that this supports the position that bloggers and the folks who comment on their sites should not be allowed anonymity on the Web.
The situation raises some interesting issues for nonprofits and government agencies, which often work hand-in-hand with them.
First, while companies have been dealing for a few years now with bloggers setting up sites specifically to collect negative commentary about their products or services, this is the first situation I've seen where something similar is being directed at a government agency. Like it or not, the Internet makes it easy for someone to criticize your organization and to gain a much wider audience for that criticism than ever before.
Second, the CYFS strategy for handling the situation clearly backfired. Taking it public only drove more traffic to the blog. Most people would never have heard of the site if it hadn't blown up in the media. Now the blog has become a cause celebre for freedom of speech in the blogosphere.
It has also raised the issue of transparency. Many are suggesting that if the allegations on the blog are true, than the blogger is right in holding an organization accountable for its bad behavior, no matter how "extreme" the rhetoric. I wonder how many angry people who have been poorly treated will read about this case and want to see something similar happening in their own communities? How will the objects of their ire handle it?
These are all issues that nonprofits will increasingly need to struggle with and address. The for-profit world has had to devise strategies for managing their on-line reputations. Now it looks like nonprofits and government agencies will need to do the same.
I personally don't think that this is a bad thing. I support transparency and believe that organizations should be held accountable for what they do and how they manage. In my years in the nonprofit and government world, I've seen a lot of mismanagement and waste in the name of doing good. I've always worked to bring change from within but in many cases have found that unless there's outside pressure to change, it just isn't going to happen. With sites like the CYFSWatch on the horizon, looks like some people will be taking matters into their own hands and that organizations will have to figure out what they're going to do to deal with that.