It’s dead easy to start a blog these days, and so we see more people doing it. Once they have a blog, people will talk about anything online — it’s almost as if they don’t realise that anyone in the world with an Internet connection could read what they’re writing.
Some bloggers might think that most people won’t care about their insignificant little blog. This may be true until someone searches for a person, place or thing in a search engine and comes across your remarks on the subject. Google might put your blog front and center on a topic and there’s not much you can do about other than deleting the blog post.
The global reach and the searchability of blogs is what gets people in trouble with their employers. Even though you might be blogging on your own time, what you say reflects on you as a person and ultimately reflects on your employer. If you talk about the details of your job expecting that no one will read them, that’s taking a big risk. If you express an opinion that looks bad as an employee, you run the same risk.
It’s not just blogging this applies to, it’s just that everyday people aren’t used to having a truly worldwide publishing medium like the Internet at their fingertips. They don’t take the same care speaking publicly that, let’s say, a Canadian Member of Parliament might use while speaking to the press each day. An MP is familiar with their publishing power, most bloggers don’t seem to be aware of it.
If an employee wrote an editorial in a newspaper criticising their employer, they could very well be fired for it. Same for TV or radio. Why would blogs be treated any differently? It’s not as simple as “blogging is something I do on my own time, so I can say whatever I want.”
A recent example was a woman in Nunavut that was fired for candidly discussing the city on her blog. Normally this wouldn’t raise eyebrows, right? But she was a tourism marketing officer for the city.
Rather than showing Nunavut as a squeeky clean tourist haven, she told it like it really was — like posting pictures of a piles of rusted junk and criticising the bus service. The inside look at the city was pretty cool and she did this outside of her job, true … but is this good marketing? Does it reflect well on the city?
A contract employee of Microsoft was fired for posting pictures of Macs sitting in a loading dock. An employee of Friendster was apparrently fired for blogging about their recent migration from Java to PHP server technologies.
The interesting thing about all three examples is that apparently none of them were warned — they were just terminated. Surely there are bloggers that have been warned and removed offending posts, but the ones we hear about in the blogosphere are the ones with no warning at all.
The Internet is not a permanent medium necessarily; the posts can be removed and all of the attention in the blogging community avoided. There are things like the Wayback Machine that permanently record websites at a certain time, but it’s possible a post can be removed before it does a lot of reputation damage.
Maybe this is a better road to take for employers, rather than seeming like bullies and drawing attention to the offending posts, which are often left up on the Internet after the firing anyway. Or maybe not. Maybe once the post is up the damage has been done. I’d be interested in a lawyer’s opinion on that.
These firings aren’t going to let up I don’t think — they’ll be a regular occurrence. As the number of people with blogs increases exponentially, less bloggers will know about these firing precedents and the care they should take while blogging.
Some people don’t know what’s appropriate to blog about and what isn’t. Maybe their managers should tell them, yeah, or maybe it should be explicitly in their contracts. Maybe employers should get employees to sign NDAs all of the time. That will make it nice and explicit and save employers a lot of trouble while saving employees from being fired. Unfortunately, all of that paper and legalese costs money.
But for employees of companies who don’t make a blogging policy explicit, I suggest you tread lightly. Google, the Wayback Machine and others are watching you, even if your boss isn’t.