I realise that, between this blog and my other blog, I have a lot of ‘Nick” out there and there is always a chance that this may come back to haunt me. Well, given that I’m blogging under my own name and I have a vague idea of how this whole Internet thing works, I was ready for this possibility. What always amazes me, however, is when people don’t realise that the Internet is neither memoryless nor able to be reformatted through fiat, no matter how much you want it to be so. Anything that goes out into the Internet is, for most reasonable definitions, going to be there forever. Trying to act against the Internet… ooh… look up the Streisand Effect (Wikipedia link), if you don’t know what that is.
You may have read about the 9-year old Scottish school girl, Martha Payne, who was a bit disappointed about the range and quantity of school lunches she was receiving so, with her dad’s help and with her teachers’ knowledge, started a blog about it. You can read the whole story here (Wired link), with lots of tasty links, but the upshot is this:
- Martha wasn’t happy with her lunches because she wanted a bit more salad, to go along with the fried food, pizza and croquettes that made up her lunch.
- Very politely, and without a huge axe to grind, she started putting up pictures of her lunch.
- Within two weeks, unlimited salads had been added for children at her school. (This is just one of the improvements that took place over time.)
- To make better use of the positive feedback and publicity, after about 20 posts, she asked people who liked and followed her blog to donate money to a group that fund school meals in Africa.
- People started following her in greater numbers. Other students started sending in pictures of their lunches.
- People started writing about her.
- Martha was pulled out of class to be told that she could no longer photograph her school meals because of something that showed up in a newspaper.
At this point, the people who were directing the school, the Argyll and Bute Council, went ever so slightly mad and forgot everything I just told you about the Internet. Firstly, because it was now obvious to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people that the A&B Council had censored a little girl from publishing pictures of her lunch. Secondly, because they posted an inaccurate and rather unpleasant statement about it, seeming to forget that everyone else could see what Martha had said and what the newspaper had said. This, of course, led to far more people knowing about the original blog than any other action that they could have taken. (I’m jealous, here, because Katrina had been following the blog before the shutdown!)
Thirdly, they forgot that the Internet is forever – that their statements, their actions to try and stop the tide from rolling, their questionable interpretation of events that might, if I were less generous, look both disingenuous and condescending (although I would never accuse the Argyll and Bute Council of such actions, obviously), these actions, and everyone’s reactions to them, are now out there. Archived. Indexed. Contextualised. Remembered.
Of course, the outcomes are unsurprising. After the Scottish Education Minister’s jaw was retrieved from the carpet, I can only imagine the speed with which the council was rung and asked exactly why they thought it a good idea to carry out their actions against a polite 9 year old girl. I note that the ban has now been lifted, the charity that Martha was working with now has so much money from donations that they can now build four kitchens to feed African school children, and some councillors have had a rather quick lesson in what globally instantaneous persistent communication means in the 21st century.
The issue here is that one girl looked at her plate, thought about it, spoke to some people and then,very politely, said “Please ;, may I have some more ;?” More salad then ensued! Food got healthier! The people at the school had responded sensibly. Children in Africa were getting more food! This was a giant win-win for the school and A&B Council – but somebody in the council couldn’t resist the urge to take a silly action in response to something that was no more Martha’a fault than the reporting of the Titanic caused the iceberg to drift into the sea lane.
Well done, Martha! Good luck with your continued photography of your increasingly pleasant, nutritious and delightful Scottish school lunches.