Be careful what you delete from the web

If you are a user of the internet (which you are) then you have to be really careful what you publish on it. Even if you think you can’t delete something, you can’t. While on the screen it looks like it’s disappeared, in reality there is a huge probability that all of the data will remain somewhere.

The most well-known example is Google Cache, which is the copy of each document on the web that Google uses to assess whether or not it is helpful to your search. This can also be used by anyone who wants to see what used to be on a page that has since been deleted or changed, if Google’s bot visited the page at the right time.

Another example is the Wayback Machine which literally visits web pages and archives them. Forever. Internet users can — to a point — browse the web as it was even in the mid-1990s. For example, here is the Microsoft website as it was in 1996.

But it is not just huge central databases like Google that can thwart self-censors. Everyday internet users are doing it all the time. Thanks to the popularity of RSS, there is now little chance that anyone who publishes an RSS feed will ever be able to hide their content. Anyone who is subscribed to your RSS feed has access to that content for as long as they want.

If you use a desktop-based RSS reader the files will actually be on your computer. But I use Google Reader, and I have access to every single blog post written by Gavin Yates since the 29th of May 2007. It looks like the Sunday Herald have as well, and possibly more.

Gavin Yates is Wendy Alexander’s new head of communications, a job which seems to be somewhat of a poisoned chalice. Brian Lironi left the post just a few days after Wendy Alexander took office, seemingly because he was fed up with the new Scottish Labour leader.

Then last week Matthew Marr was given the heave-ho after a drunken performance at the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards (a bit oxymoronic if you ask me). Particular attention was given to the fact that Mr Marr called Alex Salmond a cunt. While a lot of bloggers pointed out that he was probably right, it’s not very good conduct and you would expect much better behaviour from such an important Labour official.

And while Mr Marr was keen to point out that the incident was “entirely out of character”, bloggers lined up to say that it was in character. Mr Eugenides was “reliably informed”, while Osama Saeed and Mark McDonald have both been at the receiving end of one of Marr’s verbal outbursts.

Now Gavin Yates has run into difficulties before he’s even started. Some of what he wrote on his blog has been less than flattering about Labour and Wendy Alexander, as the Sunday Herald story points out.

The thing is, this needn’t be a problem. Surely a bit of reality, a bit of honesty, is what Wendy Alexander and Scottish Labour really need. I do wonder, though, if the culture within the party means that only yes-men are tolerated. This is presumably what drove Gavin Yates to delete his blog. Yet, as usual, it is the cover-up rather than the original ‘crime’ which makes this an embarrassing episode for Labour.

As Will P points out, Gavin Yates’s excuse does not make sense.

My comments have been taken out of context. I wrote them as a journalist in July and they do not reflect my own views. I think Wendy Alexander is a winner as is Andy Kerr.

A blog that doesn’t reflect your own views? Whose views do they reflect then? Nor was this just a few posts in July as he tries to make out. He was critical of Labour as recently as September.

But as I say, there really is nothing particularly damning about the blog posts themselves. Skimming through the archives of his blog, the criticisms he made of Labour were mostly sensible and constructive. He didn’t say anything that is truly embarrassing.

Like I say, it could have been seen as a much-needed dose of reality for the Scottish Labour elite. In fact, his blog posts demonstrate that he has a pretty good idea of the SNP’s strengths as well as Labour’s weaknesses. This ought to bode well for him in his new post.

It is the fact that Gavin Yates felt the need to delete his blog that makes it the story. It has become the forbidden fruit. But in this day and age, once you publish something on the web, there is no going back. I alone have access to 48 of his posts, just by making a few clicks in Google Reader. By deleting his blog, Gavin Yates has created a lot of interest in what he wrote — and access to it is by no means impossible.

Another blogger, Kezia Dugdale, filled the post on an temporary basis. She made the very wise decision of keeping her blog going (although there is seemingly never any danger of her going off-message). Gavin Yates should have taken note. Keeping your blog up there will do less harm than trying to remove it — because actually removing it is impossible.

It is amusing to think that for all the hype about bloggers and their ability to scrutinise, it could be your own blog, rather than other people’s, that is the most dangerous.


  1. This does not just apply to political bag carriers. It has also affected politicians. Since becoming ministers Mike Russell and Stewart Stevenson have closed down their blogs, but the caches were available (as well as RSS feeds). Indeed, subsequent to the closure of his blog – following another Herald piece – I managed to find the whole of Mike Russell’s post that had caused the fuss, a piece that colleagues thought was a balanced discussion of some of the problems in the tourist sector.

    Is the problem that with newspapers (or individual journalists) having an agenda are obsessed with splits or perceived splits? In my view a healthy democracy requires parties to honestly and openly address their flaws.