Do You Appreciate the Power of the Internet?

The power of the internet is deceptive. It gives anyone a chance to express an idea or opinion and to try to influence others. Some may not appreciate how powerful the medium can be before hitting the send button.

The internet is an incredible technology. Most of us are still coming to terms with how to use it to make our lives better or at least more enjoyable.

Our goal at FedSmith is to provide our readers with a quick and easy summary of news that impacts the federal workforce. We often focus on aspects of pay and benefits because there is a high interest in these topics. Many of our news items are about more general topics ranging from an act of heroism by a federal employee to a story about a federal employee doing something that led to prosecution and a prison sentence.

For much of my federal career, many of these news items were unavailable to the workforce. The press that catered to the federal employee generally ignored the negative items and focused largely on pay and benefits issues or case decisions of general interest. From reading these newsletters or articles, one would think that, unlike the rest of society, the federal workforce was largely free of corruption and dishonest people. That was a good feeling but probably based more on lack of knowledge than reality.

FedSmith provides a wide variety of articles from around the world that we think will be of interest to the federal workforce. That is our primary point of reference. With the power of the internet, readers learn about news that impacts them and their careers within a short time after the news is available. Most of the news is positive and informative. Some news items provide examples of how a federal employee has ruined a career or the lives of others being served by the federal government.

We also provide an outlet for any reader to comment on the articles. In fact, the comments section is one of the more dynamic and popular sections of the site. I read almost all of the comments to learn what people are thinking, what they find of interest and to gain a perspective on how federal employees think about a topic.

Some readers may not realize how powerful the internet can be. Sitting alone at your computer and taking the time to pour out your thoughts can be healthy and fun. It is quick and easy to outline your ideas on the FedSmith site and then hit the submit button. The process is quiet and anonymous.

The process is also deceptive. Writing your personal thoughts and observations in a quiet office space while alone with your computer seems personal and private. But once you hit the submit button, your thoughts are in the public domain. Your words and thoughts can influence people. It can make them think. It can make them angry. Your words can be uplifting or hurtful.

Some of the comments submitted–probably most of them– are thoughtful and well-written. Some are hastily thrown together with little apparent thought given to the spelling, grammar or content. On rare occasions, some are intentionally nasty and directed at another reader or a writer. We screen the comments but post most of them. We don’t make corrections or alterations other than those with questionable phrases or thoughts our lawyer tells us we should not publish on the site.

The FedSmith site had 42 million hits last year. Most readers are federal employees or retirees. But reader comments and the news articles are read by large numbers of people–many of whom do not work for Uncle Sam. The site is read by average citizens who stumbled across an article as a result of a search for a word or phrase. It is read by reporters looking for a new angle or a new story. I would like to think our site has made some people think about current topics and, no doubt, the site content has reinforced the views of some who already have positive or negative impressions of federal employees.

Out of the many comments that are sent in, some of them stand out. Here is one example sent in on September 1st by a reader who says he or she is employed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. (By the way, we did post the comment.)

"You guys are soooooo smart. Making moneydoing nuthin but foolin’ people. Wanna bet whether this comment will be posted?

p.s. Why don’t research and answer some real good questions like:
1. Why are federal employees cash awards taxed by the same federal government?
2. Why aren’t (government sponsored) lottery tickets tax deductable?
3. Why do federal employees have to pay ANY federal tax? The pay scale says one thing but in reality you never get to hold the money."

We are sometimes asked by readers why we allow readers to post comments that reflect poorly on the federal workforce.

One primary goal of the site is to provide a forum for readers. Many of the articles have comments with opposing views. Some people see these comments and reach conclusions about the topic or about the writer or even about the workforce as a whole. Which ones are right and which ones are wrong? We do not make those decisions. Each reader is able to post a comment and express an idea or opinion on a subject without our company censoring that idea.

With the power to express an idea publicly, anyone should give some thought to how your comment will be seen by others. A taxpayer who sees the comment above has to pay taxes to support the government. Most taxpayers make less than the average federal employee. A federal employee who complaining about paying income tax on a cash bonus or paying taxes from a check supported by the rest of the country is probably not going to create a favorable impression of the workforce as a whole.

Perhaps the reader who posted the comment above sees federal employees as downtrodden victims of a bureaucratic system and wanted a forum to express his (or her) anger. Perhaps he thinks the federal tax system is unfair or that federal employees pay too much in taxes. He may not have any perception about how the comment will be perceived by someone working hard in a job that does not pay as well or have any of the benefits of a federal career–or may not care how the comment is perceived by other readers in any event.

That, in a nutshell, is what can make the internet a powerful force. It gives anyone a chance to express an idea in a public forum. Your ideas can have influence and impact.

FedSmith is pleased to provide our readers with a forum of interest to the federal workforce. How our readers choose to use it is up to them. We hope most readers will use it wisely and for the benefit of others. How it is used is an option that is left to the individual reader.

In response to those who ask why we do not screen out the negative thoughts and comments, or why we do not correct the spelling or grammatical errors that are sent in, our goal is to provide news and information and a forum for our readers.The website is not a public relations forum for the federal workforce. We do not post items that we think are designed to hurt or insult other readers (e.g. calling another reader a derogatory name or using terms to insult or degrade an individual or group), but we do not try to censor ideas others may not like.

Moreover, we are a company of volunteers. Our writers and editors provide their time to provide a free service for the federal workforce. If a reader sends in a comment with a misspelled word, that is how it will appear. There is not a large staff of editors and writers sitting in a room to make everyone’s ideas look good in print.

We hope you enjoy our free service. We enjoy providing the service. Keep the comments and suggestions coming in. Your ideas help us determine which news items are of the most interest and value and make our site more lively and more interesting. And, when you are ready to hit the "send" button, check your spelling and make sure you want your comment to appear before it can be read by anyone in the world with a computer and an internet connection.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47