Guido Fawkes Blown Up?

April 26, 2008

The influential Guido Fawkes blog disappeared from the blogosphere this morning. Has its author finally succeeded in getting himself blown up?

What I Didn’t See This Morning

I didn’t see something this morning [Saturday April 26th 2008]. I didn’t see a blog on the web. I was looking for the latest posting from a political blogger described as one of the most influential around. The blogger goes under the name of Guido Fawkes, in homage to that earlier revolutionary figure Guy Fawkes.

This Guido Fawkes has acquired a bit of a cult status among bloggers. He has been attributed with breaking political stories which eventually have impact in the real world. For example, he can claim credit for starting the stories about a damaging bit of naughtiness by Peter Hain, during the campaign to replace Mr Prescott (arguably also caught in e-flagrante.

The convenience of pseudo-anonymity was blown most obviously in a Newsnight interview, after which a Mr John Staines claimed that he was indeed the blogging Guido Fawkes.

Guido Revealed

Another blog ['Tunbridge'] described the outing of Guido:

Despite the pantomime of the shadowy, unidentified mystical figure sitting in the studio, which everyone in political circles knows is Paul Staines; and Paxman’s usual put-them-on-the-back-foot opening gambit of “Why do you insist on this preposterous charade of sitting in a darkened studio?…” or words to that effect, the central question being raised by Paxman and Michael White, of the Guardian, was a crucial one. That Guido as a blogger can say pretty much whatever he likes and that newspapers, TV and more traditional media have all kinds of pressures and restrictions on them which prevent them from being so loose tongued.

Which remains the central point of the blogging debate and of this post.

In Search of Guido

Anyway, this morning there was an item on the BBC webpages which again referenced the egregious Guido, which prompted me to follow the link to his web-site. Not available. A bit surprising, but it happens, so I tried a few other ways to locate his site. Same results. Guido was no-where to be found.

Conspiracy?

Only if you believe in conspiracy theories. I’m on the opposite side of the world on this one, as far away as possible from believers in Lady Di assassins, cover-ups of alien visitors, Masonic plans to rule the world, and so on.

But I found myself wondering if Guido has been taken out of the game, having gone too far. Something he has done, or was about to do called for swift action. It would have taken some clout to do that. The sort of influence required to ‘persuade’ Google to operate a censorship filter to prevent its zillions of users in China from accessing the sort of information available in the West. A Mr Big has nobbled Guido. Or maybe a Ms Big ?

Guido Restored

Later: [1500 hrs]. Guido is back. But he was worried too, noting

Overnight something has happened. Not sure if it is technical failure, a hacker attack or just a glitch. Everything is backed-up and will be restored in due course…

[Later] UPDATE : It was a glitch.

The Importance of Blogging

A debate going on about the merits of blogging, and its willingness to transmit (and create) unsubstantiated, and mainly scurrilous stories. It was touched on in the Tunbridge post above on the kind of virtual world whose inhabitants can write ‘pretty much what they like’.

The BBC Story

The BBC story prompted me to take a look at the Guido Fawkes site was about a hoax purporting to be reporting the resignation of a government minister.

Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman is the latest MP to become a victim of internet hacking. An item was posted on her personal site for several hours announcing her defection to the Conservatives. It began: “To friends, foes and fans, below is a copy of the resignation letter that landed on Gordon’s desk this morning.”
Beneath it was a link to a spoof Harriet Harman blog. The site ..appears to have been taken off-line following the discovery of the rogue message, which was highlighted by the widely-read Westminster gossip blogger Guido Fawkes.

The story also pointed out that

Last year, Conservative housing spokesman Grant Shapps was targeted by hackers who broke into his YouTube account to post a message under his name saying the party could not win the Ealing Southall by-election. In 2006, David Miliband [environment Secretary at the time] was forced to shut down an experimental wiki site after it was bombarded with surreal and abusive additions.

Games People Play

These examples seem to be indications of assorted behaviours, including creative if malicious japes, to the web equivalent of graffiti, passing off, and evidence of the wisdom or otherwise of the crowd.

The Bloggers we Deserve

One of the few clear aspects in the debate is that no simple answer seems to be adequate. At present, bloggers have a well-earned reputation as purveyor of unreliable stories.

In keeping with the interests of this particular blog, I find myself arguing that the development of the blogosphere comes with its particular context of social action.

Through it, in ways we are still trying to understand, ideas gain credibility in the old world of modernity, with its traditional concerns about truth, reality, and morality. Some ideas take hold. This happens probably because of what people are inclined to believe, which itself indicates something about deeply-held fears and hopes.

On this line of reasoning, celebrity bloggers like Guido Fawkes are the bloggers we subscribe to, and are the thought leaders we create and deserve. The hackers, and jokers come as other denisons of the new blogospheric territories.

Something Old, Something New

For what it’s worth, I find connections with various old and newer ideas about innovation and change. I’m reminded of Rosabeth Kanter who developed a visionary picture in the 1980s of a future in which the most successful organizations operate with open access to information

More recently, a similar ‘freedom is good’ theme can be found in the ideas of Henry Chesborough under the catchy rubric Open Innovation

These ideas present the case for the virtues of cherishing freedom of expression in the interests of social and economic good.

However, I wish I could agree with Guido that ‘everything is backed-up and will be restored in due course…’ That would be very nice.


You heard it here first: How blogs are beating BBC battalions

February 1, 2007

Bloggers take for granted that blogging is transforming the communication and generation of information. A typical case occurred this week, as Tata took over steel manufacturer Corus. The traditional media had been following the story for months, but the first analysis of Tata in this context was arguably in a WordPress blog that appeared hours after the merger was formally announced, and before the BBC’s report on the Tata organisation from its correspondent in India.

Bloggers know it intuitively. Something special is happening in the communication and generation of news. The upcoming revolution is partly masked by the denial from opinion leaders in the traditional media of the reliability of stories initiated on the web. They point to the unruly, unsubstantiated, and sometimes illegal nature of much of its the content. Scientists have taken a similar stance over claims that are not first made through the professionally approved channels of peer-reviewed publications. The political nature of this stance becomes clearer when you consider that even publication in web-based peer reviewed publications is still being dismissed by scientists and other academic scholars as a poor alternative to publishing in printed page journals.

But the state of denial is having to carry the weight of more and more examples of the power and legitimacy of the outputs of countless thousands of able bloggers. Traditionalists can still point to the obsessive nature of blogging. And yet, obsessive commitment to campaigning ideas has always been a journalistic staple too. The web is as transparent in revealing the nature of the conspiracy theorist as is the newspaper banner headline.

The Tata case

The Tata takeover this week is a case in point. In following the business headlines, I have developed the habit of scanning the BBC site on line before obtaining a hard copy version of the Financial Times. These are both great and overlapping sources of up to date news. In coffee breaks at work, the streamers from Bloomberg’s drift past my more relaxed view.

It was from these sources that I knew, along with most business world commentators that the Anglo-Dutch firm Corus was a much desired takeover target, and that the Indian conglomerate Tata was a likely predator.

Why Tata was important to me

There were probably half a dozen other stories that caught my eye yesterday. Tata was different to me because it was the company I had some first-hand information about from several sources. I had visited their premises in Mumbai, talked with their executives, and been entertained by former students who had gone back to India to work for Tata. I had brought back several books from India outlining the company’s history, reading much of the material on the flight back to Manchester.

As a former editor of a business publication, I would in days gone by considered commissioning a piece on the emerging story. That was then. Now I could refresh my memory and get myself updated in a couple of clicks…

Something to say

Maybe I had something to say. The BBC report was, as ever, informative and convincing as far as it went.

It told me that Tata Steel, part of the Indian conglomerate Tata Group, was last year ranked 56th in the list of steelmakers around the world with output of 5.3 million tonnes, that The Tata Group owns Tetley tea and Daewoo trucks and has operations in more than 50 countries.

But it did not say that Tata was perhaps the biggest single biggest factor within Indian economic growth for over a century, as well as being a fascinating example of social innovation.

That prompted me to blog. I blogged fast and furiously. Tata, I argued, was a bit like Tesco, but a bit more like Unilever. I saw thelink with Tesco in Tata’s impact on the economy, and with Unilever for its corporate culture and history of philanthropic leadership.

The BBC quickly filed its own report on Tata The corporation was quickly able to call on its own correspondent in Mumbai to provide a superb overview of Tata.

But for a while I was ahead of the game. I had already filed in the morning when the BBC report hit the web. My urgency was not so much to claim a scoop as an effort to deal with my increasingly serious blogging addiction getting more in the way of things I am paid to do.

And I did have some first-hand knowledge that would have justified the posting, even if it had followed BBC’s piece which arrived in early afternoon GMT.

Let’s not be triumphant

I feel good about ‘beating the BEEB’. It’s a tiny personal triumph. If my blogstats multiplied a thousand time over they would not match the daily visits to BBC web sites. But I did get there first. Which is not say that I can scoop the professionals on a regular basis.

Two of my top blogs for UK political and business stories are written by BBC aces Nick Robinson and Robert Peston. Each week they open up stories that will be starting points for others to follow. But even Robinson and Peston can only cover a handful of stories at a time. And even the BBC’s battalions can not follow-up to match the collective power of the web-networkers. My triumph is one small step for blogger, but it’s being replicated more and more. That’s one giant step for Blogkind.


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