When Everyone Is A Blogger, Nothing You Say Is Off The Record

There’s a lot of buzz here in the Belgian blogosphere and mainstream media about an incident involving a New York-based blogger, who was fired from her job as a bartender after publishing a post on the bar visit of a Belgian politician.

Current Belgian Minister of Defense Pieter De Crem apparently stumbled into a Belgian bar in New York City on Monday evening with his entourage. Following his visit, bartender Nathalie Lubbe Bakker blogged about their visit (in Dutch), talking about how disgusted she was of how drunk De Crem was and how embarrassed she was about his behavior. Worst part, she wrote, was the fact that one of the politician’s advisors admitted to her that the meetings they were there for on taxpayer’s money were in fact canceled because the UN was meeting in Geneva (which is about 330 miles from Brussels). He reportedly told her they had decided to come to NY anyway despite being aware of the cancellation because the political situation here was ‘calm’ and that he’d ‘never visited the city anyway’.

A couple of days later, someone from De Crem’s office had a telephone call with Nathalie’s boss, after which she was promptly fired. This was initially denied by the politician, and it remains unclear if her termination was a direct result of the call or the blog post in question.

Somehow, the story was picked up and got a lot of attention from local bloggers and the mainstream media, which ultimately lead to the Minister having to defend himself about the NY trip in Parliament. Yesterday, he made a statement to the Parliament admitting that a call was made but that there was never any insinuation about the girl getting fired from her job (which makes me wonder why the call was made at all then).

He also stated:

I want to take this opportunity and use this non-event to signal a dangerous phenomenon in our society. We live in a time where everybody is free to publish whatever he or she wants on blogs at will without taking any responsibility. This exceeds mud-slinging. Together with you, other Parliament members and the government I find that it’s nearly impossible to defend yourself against this. Everyone of you is a potential victim. I would like to ask you to take a moment and think about this.

De Crem added that he’s asked his legal counsel to see which measures could be taken to ‘defend his integrity’.

Needless to say, his statements indicating that ‘blogging is a dangerous phenomenon’ spurred a lot of angry (and funny) reactions in the local blogosphere, making the situation for him much worse than it already was (much like that German politician who blocked the local wikipedia.de website).

People, and especially politicians representing them, need to wake up and smell the coffee. The world is changing, and blogging is now a big part of it, with all of its good sides as well as its bad ones. Live and learn. The sooner you get the hang of social media, the more you’ll see the opportunities in there rather than the threats.

Feel free to share your opinion on this story, or blogging in general, in the comments.

(Not sure who to credit for that last picture, but I found out at Bart Claeys’ Flickr account who got it from this blog)