When Barbara Streisand tried to sue a photographer in 2003 for including an aerial photograph of her beach front property in a publicly available collection for the California Coastal Records Project, the action backfired on her spectacularly. Public knowledge of the case resulted in a privacy “own goal” as many more viewers were drawn to the website on which the image appeared.

The so-called Streisand effect is described by Wikipedia as

“an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be widely publicized. Examples of such attempts include censoring a photograph, a number, a file, or a website (for example via a cease-and-desist letter). Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity, often being widely mirrored across the Internet, or distributed on file-sharing networks.”

News has reached us through the internets that Graham Badman, author of the controversial report on elective home education in England which continues to cause a fair furore, has been doing a Barbara Streisand. His singing and dancing routine is backed by a full chorus line from the DCSF who have been clyping to the Information Commissioner about members of the public brazenly using the Freedom of Information Act to request information about the Badman review. While some of them are harmless home educators who simply want to satisfy themselves that the puiblished report was based on evidence, others have apparently been asking more awkward questions about possible conflicts of interest. Many FOI requests have been refused on highly dubious grounds, but the Information Commissioner is assured by the DCSF that they are doing their level best to respond to genuine enquiries, which of course excludes any potentially embarrassing ones from the awkward squad.

The DCSF letter to the ICO makes for very interesting reading and we must thank Feargal Hogan for making it available on the What Do They Know website, itself a target for DCSF criticism because people are using it to submit legitimate FOI requests (which is of course why the public service site was set up), then going on to publish the responses for the wider public benefit. Simply by availing themselves of this useful online service to request information, some home educators now stand accused by the DCSF of “vilifying” Mr Badman.

As far as the DCSF is concerned, Ian Hislop and Private Eye have nothing on Blogdial, who is said to have accused Mr Badman of being a liar in this post , which was highlighted to the ICO as one example of vilification and abuse, along with this satirical spoof blog which showed “an image of Mr Badman manipulated to show him reading Mein Kampf”. Continuing to demonstrate severe sense of humour failure, this animation, produced by a home educated child, was identified by the DCSF as a direct threat to Graham Badman because it showed a big boot crushing a cartoon character in true Monty Python style, with an accompanying caption making a serious point about trampling on rights.

If a child’s video was enough to place Mr Badman in a state of fear and alarm, the classrooms of Kent must have been a truly terrifying experience for such a sensitive soul. We hear he has been nominated for a Big Brother award from Privacy International, but the gong carries a health warning for those with a jackboot phobia. Mr B had also better take care to avoid watching this video produced by home educated young people. The Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! computer game is similarly out of bounds, despite its developer having no known connection to home education and his choice of the name Badman being entirely coincidental.

Another vilification reference by the DCSF was to a random post on the social networking site Facebook, which was unfindable (by this blogger at least) from the link provided. Facebook is used by millions of adults and young people worldwide for sharing information, love and bile in equal measures, as well as for game playing by those who are that way inclined. It is used to great effect by businesses and other organisations who want to get their message “out there” and has even been infiltrated by the likes of MPs who tend to talk about themselves a lot.

Facebook groups like Stop the UK Government Stigmatising Home Educators (with over 2000 members) and Home Education Forums (with its more modest 200+ fans) are a new medium for networking and online communication on single issues and causes which are often ignored or misrepresented by the mainstream media. As with youtube and the blogosphere, the Facebook phenomenon worries the powers that be who like to control the flow of “information” for our own good. It is probably no coincidence that agents provocateurs and trolls have become increasingly prevalent across the social media, and even Mr Badman’s daughter covertly joined a home education Facebook group as a “friend”, making some interesting as well as irritating comments before she was outed.

Getting back on topic (as they say in social netwoking circles), the tenor of the letter from the DCSF to the ICO is incredibly worrying. In anticipation of an avalanche of complaints about its failure to adhere to the statutory timescales for FOI responses, the DCSF is actively seeking to manipulate the situation by asserting that many FOI requests have been made vexatiously by home educating troublemakers with a grudge against Graham Badman. Evidence? None, m’lud! Nothing new there then.

The author of this loaded letter “helpfully” proceeds to perpetuate the state sponsored smear campaign against home educators, citing the safeguarding of children as “one of the factors which led to the review” and crying crocodile tears in an effort to gain sympathy.

“There have been a number of serious case reviews in which elective home education has been a circumstance taken into consideration. [Redacted under section 44 – prohibitions on disclosure]”

There’s nothing like being economical with the truth, or “lying by omission” as Blogdial might put it. In none of these very few cases ( for which details have been conveniently redacted) was elective home education found to be a relevant factor; rather it was established that the professionals involved failed to use existing powers to intervene in situations to which they had already been alerted. Not that this has anything to do with the DCSF’s failure to respond to legitmate FOI requests.

“Of course a few cases do not characterise all home educators, and the review made this absolutely clear.”

The same could be said about teachers, social workers, youth workers, police officers and other caring professionals, some of whom download pornography, groom, abuse, rape and even murder children. Of course a few (or even many) cases do not characterise all such caring professionals, which is why there is no need for an expensive review to determine to what extent they may be using their privileged professional access to children as a cover for abuse.

“Ultimately the review is leading towards legislation to address the concerns it identified, and that in itself, it is anticipated, will lead to an increase in FOI requests.”

The review can only lead to legislation if it is passed by the UK Parliament, which is (we would hope) beyond the sphere of influence of the Great Graham Badman (although you never know these days). Counting legislative chickens is never a good idea for a government which is hanging on an increasingly shoogly nail and heading for electoral wipe out by next May at the latest. There is also the spectre of the parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into the debacle which has sent Mr Badman scrabbling around for evidence to substantiate statements he has already made in his report; claims which have been refuted by hard working members of AHEd and scrutinised by a professional statistician who has cast serious doubts on Mr Badman’s mathematical ability. So yes, DCSF, there are bound to be more FOI requests as there are far too many unanswered questions.

It is widely believed that Mr Badman’s recommendations had already been determined by Big Brother Ed Balls in advance of the public consultation, “con” being the most appropriate prefix for the shameful sham that wasted the time and energy of more than 2000 concerned home educators and others who believe in that old fashioned presumption of innocence principle. Their respectful representations were ignored and it is therefore hardly surprising that these same people have run out of patience waiting for common sense to break out. Having taken it upon themselves to ask some searching questions of their own, as is their legal right under the Freedom of information Act , they have been consistently stonewalled by the DCSF, yet now stand accused of vexatious and abusive behaviour.

The pot and kettle show is selling out fast, folks! According to the late Tim Field, a world renowned expert on bullying, it is a typical tactic for bullies to turn the situation around and claim that their targets are in fact the bullies:

“When close to being outwitted and exposed, the bully feigns victimhood and turns the focus on themselves – this is another example of manipulating people through their emotion of guilt, e.g. sympathy, feeling sorry, etc.”

All this subliminal smearing on the part of the DSCF is obviously geared towards getting the Informaton Commissioner on side by any means – just in case they have to answer the outstanding questions that could reveal the Badman review as a pre-planned stitch up. However, such attempts to suppress or censor information are far more likely to achieve the opposite ‘Streisand’ effect of attracting extensive publicity.

Home educators are not stupid and will not be deterred by DCSF spin dispensers who refuse to satisfy their thirst for truth. Like Angus MacNeil MP and Telegraph journalists before them, they are not going to go away until they get to the bottom of Badman. That is not a threat, but a promise.