Internet Rescues 9-Year-Old Blogger From Bureaucrats

Internet Rescues 9-Year-Old Blogger From Bureaucrats

It's a hard lesson that every bureaucrat, government official, and school administrator learns the hard way. When you stop someone from doing something that's popular, the Internet will rise up and smite you like the fist of an angry god.

The latest victim of god-fist smiting is the Argyll and Bute City Council in Scotland, which had banned 9-year-old Martha Payne from taking photos of her school lunches for her NeverSeconds food blog.

Martha had been taking photos of her school lunch, make comments, giving each meal a rating, and asking her readers to donate money so she could give it to Mary's Meals, a nonprofit that feeds children around the world.

After the ban was lifted a few days later, Martha's little blog had more than 6.5 million visits, and raised nearly £100,000 ($156,000) to build a school kitchen in Blantyre, Malawi, where children at the Lirangwe Primary School will be fed for an entire year.

But let me back up a bit. Martha, who lives in Lochgilphead, Scotland, had been blogging about her school lunches, and writing whether she had liked them for a few weeks. But administrators didn't like the photos and descriptions, even though she never actually complained about the lunches.

On a 10 point scale, most of her ratings were around a 9 or 10, with a couple of 5s. She always said what she liked about lunch, and in many cases, talked about how the lunches cheered her up, made her happy, or how she kept asking for fruit and vegetables.

In short, she was being a typical kid, saying what she liked and didn't like, and sharing her opinions with anyone who would listen.

The town council bureaucrats were being typical town council bureaucrats, determining what other people could do and not do, and forcing their will on anyone they could.

The problem was, what is an innocent blog post to a child is a scathing exposé to an adult. They didn't like how the food looked, because apparently they thought the food looked unappetizing or unappealing.

Hey, if the picture of the shoe fits. . .

The council was especially upset by a story in Scotland's Daily Record newspaper with the headline "Fire the Dinner Ladies." In a written statement, the council said the story was apparently causing "unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service," because Martha's blog "misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils."

Having looked at Martha's blog myself, I can tell you that if anything, Martha was very nice and polite about her lunches, gushing over many of them and saying how much she liked them.

When I was a kid, we didn't like our school lunches. It wasn't just because it was fashionable to complain about the food, it was because it was nastiness in a foil-covered box.

At my school, North View Elementary School in Muncie, Indiana, we had "satellite lunches." That means the lunches were prepared elsewhere and then taken to schools all over the city. We received a hot pack and a cold pack, and every day was an adventure in mediocrity and blandness.

So, looking at Martha's meals, I can see why the administrators would think the food looks nasty.

Because it looks nasty.

If anything, they should be embarrassed by what they're serving, not complaining about the photos. But bureaucrats will be bureaucrats, and so they ordered Martha to quit taking pictures, which meant she had to shut down her food blog.

What they didn't count on was the whole Internet smiting thing. The Internet rose up, sent countless emails and tweets to Argyll and Bute, telling them what bullies they were and how dare they stifle the creativity and happiness of a little girl.

So the Argyll and Bute council did what most bullies do: they quickly backed down in the face of a larger force. It didn't hurt that council leader Roddy McCuish also ordered officials to lift the ban.

"There is no place for censorship in this council, and never will be whilst I am leader," McCuish told the Associated Press.

If you're in a position of authority or leadership, there are a few simple rules you need to remember:

1) The Internet hates bullies, especially when those bullies make children stop doing things that are nice.

2) The Internet is like the psycho teacher from the Karate Kid. "THERE IS NO MERCY IN THIS DOJO!"

3) If you make little kids stop doing nice things because you think they cast you in bad light, the Internet will rise up and, without mercy, cast you in a bigger, badder, more uncomfortable light.

In short, the Internet is to cute children like a mama grizzly is to her cubs. If you get between the mama and the cubs, bad things will happen.

Especially when the bear posts photos of you on her food blog.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

My latest book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.


Like this post? Leave a comment, Digg it, or Stumble it.