Pseudonymity and conflict of interest

So, the usual parties have emerged accusing me of having a conflict of interest while using a pseudonym.

Those people either do not pay attention, or do not care to.

I have always been clear about the rules by which I operate, to avoid conflict of interest. That is, to not tweet or blog about the issues that I deal with at work. It’s a simple rule and it seems to work.

Nevertheless, there are those who are trawling over my LinkedIn account, and this blog, to see if I am true to my word.

To save them the trouble, here are my blog posts listed according to the jobs that I held at the time they were written.

CEO CropLife Australia (til June 2010)

  1. Nirvana Revisted
  2. Who’s the demon?
  3. Political private lives CAN be a public issue
  4. Democracy, by-lines and the cult of celebrity
  5. Conned or captured? Voter sentiment and Rudd’s demise
  6. We are ashamed but must accept that politics eats its young

Self-employed contractor: professional writer (July – Sept 2010)

  1. In defence of Tony Burke’s tweets
  2. Time to throw out the astroturf and step forward
  3. Symbolism or substance: Will a decarbonised Australian economy fix climate change?
  4. Julia’s tenet – no government has ever fallen to a bored citizenry
  5. Nielson poll – wakeup call for protest voters, not Gillard
  6. Don’t mistake the organ-grinder for the lion-tamer: the media and the 2010 federal election
  7. Refuse the election media spoonfeed and make up your own mind!
  8. A kinder, gentler legislative log-jam
  9. Surprise, surprise, The Australian censors criticism of faux Harry Jenkins expose
  10. I’m sick of running the gauntlet of smiling harassers

Home Insulation Safety Program (Oct 2010 – April 2011)

  1. New media prejudice based on fear of the unknown
  2. 4 Corners “The Deal” more like Jersey Shore than documentary
  3. Not all spin doctors use their power for evil
  4. Hate mail may drown out real learnings from Howard years
  5. Autism badly served by “Communication Shutdown”
  6. Tastings from the 2010 political buffet
  7. Whether you like it or not – looks do matter in politics
  8. New ABC social media role an empty gesture
  9. My heartfelt thanks to a few
  10. Time to demand better behaviour from our sporting heroes
  11. Gerry Harvey: How did it all go so wrong?
  12. Abbott’s holiday is a political misjudgement
  13. I am the greenhouse culprit! And so are you
  14. A salutary tale for the Australian Greens
  15. Mirror, mirror on the wall: what do flood speeches say about us all?
  16. Has the flood levy damaged the carbon price?
  17. Shit happens: What should Abbot have done?
  18. Clive Hamilton – an out of touch eco-warrior
  19. Voters don’t care about political lies
  20. Faux environmentalism
  21. How to sell a carbon tax
  22. Give up on the game of Extreme Rhetoric – Let’s talk instead
  23. Prime Ministerial half-truths will not save the planet
  24. Reports of Labor’s death are greatly exaggerated
  25. Can the Greens step down from their pedestal now?
  26. Love to hate, but don’t love the haters
  27. Ellis and Hamilton – defrocked priests muttering on the edge
  28. Ad campaigns are the last resort of failed lobbyists
  29. Leadership is True North for our political compasses

Department of Climate Change (May 2011 – Oct 2011)

  1. #Slutwalk will not show our daughters how to get respect
  2. Better political reporting is the key to better politics
  3. The Power Index: peddling influence or impoverished ideas?
  4. Abbott in a Zegna suit?
  5. Is the tide turning for Tony Abbott?
  6. Do you really know when they’re faking it?

Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (Nov 2011 – present)

  1. Less smirk, more political analysis please
  2. Lego’s not as pink as you think
  3. Have the Greens peaked already?

Cool kids and the nastification of Twitter

For the past few years I’ve been blogging and tweeting under the pseudonym Drag0nista. Today I disclose this in the interests of honest debate.

The Twitterverse is huge: it consists of 300 million users and hosts conversations on a mind-boggling range of interests and issues. I dwell only in a small part of that place – the part which monitors and debates Australian politics. There you will find professional and amateur political junkies, journalists, bloggers, staffers, MPs, lobbyists, interest group personnel and some academics.

It’s not a place for the faint hearted. Political tweeps monitor their friends as well as their foes, and are likely pounce on unthinking or considered comments alike to score a debating point or defend their cause.

The very public nature of Twitter discussions can encourage groupthink and a pack mentality can easily take hold. It’s not uncommon for a tweep on one side of a debate to be bombarded with responses from the other side. These contributions can range from a considered engagement with the issue, to highly personal attacks. Someone once compared it to a lone tennis player battling with a demonic ball-throwing machine.

That’s all well and good. If you want to be loud and opinionated on Twitter then you must be prepared to engage with people who disagree with you. That’s a basic tenet. But what has struck me recently about Twitter is its ‘nastification’. While Twitter once seemed a place of wit, satire and cynicism, built upon a strong foundation of good humour, it now seems to be built upon self-righteousness, and characterised by ridicule, denigration and dismissiveness.

In my experience, this is particularly evident with the younger progressives who discuss Australian politics on Twitter. Once they were the clear majority in this part of the Twitterverse, receiving affirmation from the many others who agreed with them. But Twitter’s demographic has since broadened to include vocal conservatives, libertarians, other small L liberals and even Marxists who challenge the young progressives’ undergraduate style of political discourse. Suddenly the cool kids are not so cool any more.  And they are resorting to dismissal and denigration in an attempt to discredit those who are not like them.

I’ve previously referred to the part of Twitter that I inhabit as being like a vast ballroom filled political aficionados milling about, talking in clusters. But it’s become more like a room of student politicians, snarking about what someone is wearing (eg. #tightsarenotpants), how someone is ignorant and therefore not entitled to discuss the matter (eg. “this conversation is full of #derp”) or generally making fun of a person outside their earshot or tweetstream using a denigrating hashtag or meme (eg. #hysteriagate).

These are subtle styles of bullying, intended to isolate and discredit those who choose not to fall into line with how the cool kids think. A recent Drum piece on intellectual honesty posits a number of other ways that people try to discredit or browbeat others into silence. The piece omits, however, what I’ve observed to be the most common method used in this part of Twitter to undermine another’s point of view: the ad hominem accusation, or “playing the man and not the ball”.

The tendency by weak debaters to use the ad hominem rationale is the main reason I’ve kept my pseudonym for as long as I have. I love to have debates about political issues, but my past roles as PR consultant, press secretary and lobbyist are sometimes used to dismiss my views. “Well you would say that,” is just as much a productive debating tool as “talk to the hand”.

I don’t pretend that my hands are clean when it comes to using acerbic debating tactics on Twitter. I’ve ridiculed (with tongue firmly planted in cheek) the Pomodoro writing technique, SayYes rallies and the opponents of pineapple on pizza. And yes, I’ve struck back at individuals when I’ve felt affronted by them. But I believe the closest I’ve come to an ad hominem accusation is to point out that political staffers on Twitter are paid to support and defend their employers’ policies.

So I kept a pseudonym to see if my opinions could withstand scrutiny without being summarily dismissed as partisan or biased views.

I’ll admit that the experiment failed. As I got to know a few people in real life that I’d met on Twitter, some could not help during a heated debate to bring up my past to discredit my views. Others have privately threatened to ‘out’ Drag0nista on confected conflict of interest grounds. I must stress that bullying people in an attempt to stifle debate is not necessarily restricted to the progressive side of politics – The Australian’s shameful unveiling of GrogsGamut is a case in point.

It’s not just the bullying or the nastification of Twitter that has led me to disclose that I’m Drag0nista. It’s because, over time, I’ve realised that I’m not comfortable reading someone’s opinion without context. As a former media adviser, I always interpret reports and analysis written by journalists depending upon what I know about them. This might include who their official partner or unofficial lover is, whether they have a close relationship with MPs or people in politicians’ offices, and who they have worked with/for in other roles.

Similarly, when I read a piece on The Drum, I automatically scroll down to the author’s description so that I can contextualise what they are saying. This is not a mechanism to screen out what are valid and invalid views, but one that gives me a deeper understanding of what is being said.

So I have grown to accept that people who read my tweets and blog posts also have the right to read my views in context. That’s why I’ve decided to make this disclosure today.

I intend to keep the name Drag0nista as a pseudonym for tweeting and blogging purposes. I shall also include disclose my true name to give readers context and for transparency purposes.

No doubt the ad hominem attacks will continue. But I hope that people will see this move more as an invitation to engage with me in discussion, than an opportunity to dismiss what I have to say.

This post first appeared at The Drum