blogging in the news
The local paper ran an article this morning on how workers getting fired for blogging appears to be an increasing trend.
Like a growing number of employees, Peter Whitney decided to launch a blog on the Internet to chronicle his life, his friends and his job at a division of Wells Fargo.
Then he began taking jabs at a few people he worked with.
His blog at http://gravityspike.blogspot.com did find an audience: his bosses. In August 2004, the 27-year-old was fired from his job handling mail and the front desk, he says, after managers learned of his Web log, or blog.
His story is more than a cautionary tale. Delta Airlines, Google and other major companies are firing and discipline employees for what they say about work on their blogs, which are personal sites that often contain a mix of frank commentary, freewheeling opinions and journaling.
And it's hardly just an issue for employees: Some major employers such as IBM are passing first-of-a-kind employee blogging guidelines designed to avoid problems, such as online publishing of trade secrets, without stifling the kind of blogs that also can create valuable buzz about a company.
"Right now, it's too gray. There need to be clearer guidelines," says Whitney, who has found another job. "Some people go to a bar and complain about workers. I decided to do it online. Some people say I deserve what happened, but it was really harsh. It was unfair."
Wells Fargo declined to comment, but a spokeswoman said in an e-mail that the company doesn't have a blogging policy.
Blogs are proliferating as fast as computer viruses. More than 8 million adults in the United States have created blogs, according to two surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit research center studying the Internet's social effects. And 32 million Americans are blog readers -- a 58 percent jump in 2004.
Employers are just beginning to wake up to the potential risk that blogs pose.
"The law is trying to catch up with the technology," says Allison Hift, a telecommunications and technology lawyer in Miami. "This is like what we saw a few years ago with employers passing policies about e-mail. Now we're seeing it with Web logs."
Actually, I don't think the situation is quite as grey as Whiteny would have us believe. Many companies have policies about Internet use -- although "no personal use" policies are probably far from universally enforced -- but about company matters is farily obviously a no-no. (Indeed, although my blog reading has been curtailed nearly as much as my posting, I rarely see people posting about work in the blogs I read, except in the most general terms. One notable exception is my freind Jaquandor, who often relates amusing anecdotes from "The Store," but even then he's sufficiently obscure that, while his place of employ is not exactly a secret, his tales of working life offer little for an employer to object to.
As such, count me as among those who are unimpressed with Whitney's whining about fairness. While people certainly do kvetch about co-workers in bars -- or even during working hours -- the difference in Whiteny's case is that his opinions remained for all to see on his blog. As alluded to with the mention of the proliferation of email policies, I'm sure that if Whitney had committed his gripes to an email, it would also have been grounds for disciplinary action. While the company would be on firmer grounds if it could establish Whitney was blogging on company time, he has no one but himself to blame for his lack of discretion.
For my own part, while my blog is not anonymous, I've tried to maintain a policy of not providing details of where I work or what's happening there. (Indeed, I specifically restained from going into details about a bad situation with a previous employer about a year ago.)
Moreover, my current blogging dry spell as everything to do with my current work situation. For starters, as I may have mentioned, one has to respect a "no personal use of the Internet" policy that's strictly enforced. And anyway, my current duties have me extrmely busy, so there's little time to surf even if it were permitted. I do not post from work, of course, which leaves the evenings as the only opportunity. Unfortunately, I've found myself intending to post come the evening, but genrally too tired to do so, especially after sitting down for a movie or a PS2 session. I hope this current post markes the beginning of a reversal of that trend, however.
As an aside, I also think it's interesting that the paper ran a photo of "Washintonienne" Jessica Cutler, who was fired from her Washington staff position for her anonymous but sexually-explicit blogging about her sex life, which alluded to trysts with a number of Republican staffers, but didn't mention her blog in the story at all. Small wonder, after all, as her story ran its course a year ago. (Then again, so did Whitney's and Ellen Simonetti's, who was fired by Delta Airlines for posting what the airline deemed inappropriate pictures of herself in her flight attnedant's uniform on her blog, so perhaps today just feel during a slow week for business news...) Perhaps the photo editors were seeking an attractive face to represent bloggers, and Simonetti's photos were not available for sone reason. If they simply wanted to allude to the Washintonienne kerfluffle, they could simply had added a graf to the story.