Killing ‘My Baby’ – a cautionary tale

I think I must be grieving. I have many pressing issues to deal with in my life, but for the most part they are overshadowed by the events of the last ten days. I am lost and confused and plagued by doubts. Did I destroy my blog just as it was threatening to take off?

The ‘baby’ in the title was of course no thing of flesh and blood, but rather the 68th post on my blog titled ‘The Bag Lady of Chiswick’. Before I pressed the ‘post’ button at around 3.30am on the 30th December my humble blog had received the grand total of 4400 views in it’s 14 month history. My finest moment to that point had been a photo challenge prompt that pulled in a respectable 163 views in one day, a figure that I had yearned for months to beat without the slightest hint of ever coming close.

I am a stat junkie. There, it’s out there, I confess. It is fair to say that most of my posts barely scrape double figure viewing with the notable exception of my Friday Fictioneers posts that will sometimes pull in 50 or so views in a month. Of course I would love to get more exposure and a bigger following for my blog, it might help convince my dear wife that the time I spend on it is actually worthwhile. Yet as my finger hovered over the categories and tags section as I prepared to post, I had no idea how quickly things might change.

This particular post was about a homeless lady from Chiswick who my family and I had become accustomed to seeing every time we made the trip into London. To cut a long story short, this lady had been living in some bushes in the car park under Stamford Brook tube station until Transport for London in their wisdom decided to cut down the bushes that gave her shelter.

We didn’t know the lady but we were outraged by what seemed a deliberate attempt to move this woman on from what had been her home for years. I couldn’t sleep and decided to research her on the internet and found out she was not without some fame. It turned out that she had been a promising young concert pianist before her life fell apart and she spent the next thirty years living in a car. Fascinated, I pulled together what I could from the articles I found and told what I thought was her story together with my own experience of her.

I never considered what I did to be journalism, and never really expected to reach more than a handful of the kind-hearted souls who suffer my ramblings on a regular basis. I ticked some boxes, pressed post and went to bed.

The following morning I got up and checked my blog to see if anyone had remembered I was there and took pity on me with a read and perhaps a ‘like’. Something odd was happening. By 11am there had been over 300 views on my blog! I scoured the stats looking for the source of my new found popularity. Could I have been – gasp – F.P.’d? No. It was Twitter.

I kept an eye on it through the morning and received a strange new notification – Your stats are Booming! The figures were climbing rapidly and by 1pm I had reached 1000 views – happy days! I spent the rest of the day glued to my stats in fascination as the figures climbed higher and higher. My post had gone viral!

At midnight on the 30th December, The Bag Lady of Chiswick had received 3500 views, mostly from Twitter, but with a handful from Facebook. The next day was much quieter, with around 560 viewers and for a couple of days after that things began to return to something approaching normal.

I felt so proud that something I had written had been read by so many people, but I wondered how I was going to get myself motivated for life after my ’15 minutes’. Thursday the 2nd of Jan was OK, but uninspiring with 123 views and it struck me how ungrateful you can get when you have seen what life is like over there in successville.

Thursday 3rd went bananas. I woke up to find I had received over 1000 views through the night and the stats boomed again on the way to a dizzying 7200 views by close of business. It was Facebook’s turn and they came in their thousands, very few were leaving comments but hey, you can’t have everything.

Friday the 4th was the peak of insanity and I woke up to find 5000 people had been reading my story through the night. At one point I received 1667 views in a single hour, and was hitting the refresh button on the stats page every few seconds in disbelief as I watched it going up by 20 views in a few seconds. That day I recorded 19,214 views on my blog, all but a couple of hundred were for TBLoC, but I didn’t mind a bit.

People were offering their own memories of the lady and I published many of the comments, not all of them positive, happy to foster the debate. By the next day another 10,000 people had come and gone and I looked through the multitude of comments and began to feel uncomfortable. A number of people were raising concerns, quite justifiably, that this lady was being discussed all over the internet and had become something of a minor celebrity, possibly without her knowledge.

What impact might that have on a lady who may well have mental health issues? What were the possible repercussions for this woman? Would she now attract a level of attention that she didn’t want and might not be equipped to cope with? What of my own part in all of this? Had I checked my facts? No. Had I asked her before I hit the post button? of course not.  Was I just riding piggyback on her story, basking in a little reflected glory? Had I even considered what a derogatory term ‘bag lady’ actually was? What about the pictures I used, did I get permission? The truth is a bitter pill.

Since posting her story, TBLoC had been read on my site by well over 40,000 people in 112 different countries around the world and was a viral sensation on Facebook. I was proud of my success, but it just didn’t feel right. I reluctantly took the decision that it had to come down. I issued an apology to Anne Naysmith via my blog, but of course I don’t know if she knew about that either.

The crux of this matter is that if it happened to me (because trust me, as blogs go they don’t come much smaller) it could just as easily happen to you. If you put something out there in the public domain you never know just how it will be received, or by whom it will be read. So when your finger hovers over that post button just pause and think for a moment, am I sure that this is OK? Is this post water tight? You never know when you will be glad that you did, and just maybe you won’t have to kill your baby – like I did.

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4 comments

  1. I can understand your predicament. But I believe you did the right thing. Most homeless people have mental issues and don’t want to leave the streets. They are still people with feelings and we all should respect that. The internet is unpredictable in what will go viral, so yeah, we all need to think a bit before publishing.

    Like

  2. This is not about the homeless person. This is about freedom of speech and how everyone wants to be the armchair quarterback.
    Now is the time to get something else going. Good luck.

    Like

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