Listen to Uncle Reynolds as he sits you on his knee and explains these simple facts to stop you losing your job over blogging. These points relate mainly to work-blogs, but with a bit of thought will translate pretty well to anything that you write on the Internet. Most of this is just common sense stuff, but there are people out there who falsely think that bloggers should be elevated over non-blogging employees.
Disclaimer – I am not an expert in employee law, I just have my opinions. Seek professional or union advice if you feel your job is under threat. At the end of the day, my company is trying to get less customers, not more. So my ideas may be a little screwed up. Don’t come crying to me if you lose your job following my advice. Also don’t come crying to me when I’m sitting on station trying to have a cup of tea.
How To Blog, And Not Lose Your Job – Version 1.0
You are not anonymous, in todays world of easy investigation (via the Internet of course) it is normally a matter of an hours work to find out who a blogger is. It’s really easy if the person who is doing the investigation works for the same company you do. Sure, you might use a pseudonym and reduce your boss and fellow workers to nicknames, but it only takes one mention of some uncommon point to blow the whole thing open. For me, it was when I wrote about swallowing some HIV+ blood, the news spread around ‘in real life’, and it didn’t take a genius to work out who was writing my blog. In some places your company might be able to force your blog hosting company or ISP to reveal your details. So write as if you are writing under your own name, or be honest and don’t bother with a pseudonym.
In a related note, you will probably be read by people who know you, it’s probably inevitable, but folks who move in the same social circles as you will have similar interests. Your interest in blogging about your job in sheep shearing may well mean that when your colleague does a search for websites about sheep shearing for promotional interview reasons – your page may well turn up. If you are going to be publicizing your blog, then there is a large chance that your target demographic will include some of your friends. Actually if it doesn’t then either your blog, or your friendships are not very honest. So blog as if everyone you know reads every word.
You are not immune to the rule of law – really, you aren’t. Blogging may be a great new thing, it may well have expanded quicker than any other media in the history of humanity, but the laws of Libel, Slander and Defamation of Character* still apply to you. Sure, the Internet fosters a sense of anonymity, and of free speech – but that only goes so far. A lot of bloggers who have been fired from their jobs have found out the hard way that you can’t breach your company’s rules/country’s laws and expect the defence of ‘But it was on the Internet’ to hold much water. If I write something that defames the character of someone, then they are fully within their rights to sue me, whether I’m published in a paper, a book or on the Internet. You have to follow civil and criminal laws online as well as off-line. These will vary depending on where you live. For the Americans in the audience the whole ‘Free Speech’ bit in your constitution concerns your government making laws to curtail free speech, it says nothing about companies.
*Your country’s laws may vary.
The truth will find you out, if you lie on your blog, and there are any number of people reading then you will be found out. I’m not suggesting that there are a multitude of fact checkers out there, but it only needs one falsehood to completely blow any reputation you may have built up. If you lie about people then once again you are laying yourself open to a juicy bit of court action, which might bump up you pagehits, but not in a good way. If you aren’t sure about a bit of information that you are writing about mark such inconclusive evidence as being just that – inconclusive.
If you think you will get in trouble with your blogging – ASK. I know that it may be easier to ask forgiveness than permission. But your company might be all out of forgiveness. If you think that your blogging might cause friction, or lead to you being disciplined then ask your boss first. Go in prepared, with all the opinions and evidence that blogging is a good thing. Do a good enough job convincing them, and they may start paying you to blog. If they flat out won’t let you blog, then consider if this is a company you want to be working for, or if you want to blog strongly enough to risk losing your job. Do this, and don’t be surprised when you get the sack.
Companies, as well as people have secrets, and they will be mightily annoyed if those secrets are aired for everyone to look at. Companies have bigger secrets than individuals, they have to protect their profits, enjoy the support of their stockholders and maintain patent pending secrets. If you blab about ‘Secret Project X’, then the company will find some way to fire you. You might not think that revealing that chip X will be used in the new graphics card you are working on is propriety information – but it never hurts to check first. Just think before posting – “who will this revealing secret hurt”, if you aren’t prepared to deal with the consequences, then don’t post. Of course, if it is in the public interest to post about something, then you need to weigh up the possibility of being disciplined.
Companies, and people, have a reputation to protect, if you want to shout about how working in company X is like slavery (complete with whipping and a bread and water lunch programme), then that company might take a dislike to you doing so on the Internet. Actually this is one of those things that is made worse because of the nature of the Internet. If you tell your wife that your job is awful – then your company is unlikely to find out. Tell the same thing to a bunch of your friends down the pub and, if found out, the company may discipline you. Paint it in six foot high letters on the side of their building and you would expect to get the sack. Writing something on the Internet is much like painting it across the face of the moon. If you are that unhappy, then find another job. If you can’t get another job, then at least be fairly subtle about your moaning. Your employers love you, and want what is best for you, if you are really that unhappy at work they will help you with some tough love by forcing you to choose other career options. You’ll have to clear out your own desk though.
A lot of people won’t like being written about – I mean, the Internet is full of freaks and weirdos right? Who’d want any details of their life on the ‘inter-web super-info-highway’ so just about anyone can read intimate details about them? If you are going to write about other people, then anonymise them. How you do this depends on the style of your blog, do you give them all nicknames, refer to them as initials or call them ‘one of my workmates’? If you do give people nicknames, remember – they may well find out about it, and while calling your boss ‘SmellyGit’ may not be a sack-able offence, it may well have a negative effect on your chances of a future promotion.
If work has a problem with your blog, find out exactly what the problem is, and work with them to correct it. Some workplaces won’t let people blog at all, some have no policy for blogging, while others (perhaps most) have no idea what blogging is. Work with them to get a policy written, be helpful, be cooperative and be evangelical. Telling your company that ‘it isn’t fair’ when they ask you to stop your blog will work about as well as it did on your mother when you wanted to get that tattoo. Let them know how blogging ‘humanises’ the company, talk about how ‘branding is a conversation’; let them know that you are performing ‘grassroots, viral marketing’. If that doesn’t work, let them know that people are going to start asking questions about why the blog has stopped, and that they will draw their own conclusions. This isn’t a threat, but a reality – get them to let you continue the blog but that they get to clear any information that you post about.
Can you blog on company time? Most companies have a policy about Internet usage. Your work might well have a policy that covers blogging without actually mentioning the word ‘blog’, probably something about using the Internet on company time. I suggest that if you are going to be posting during working hours you take a good long look at those policies. Remember, they are paying for you to work, not to write your diary (no matter how many people read it). Obviously this doesn’t apply to people whose job description is to blog. If blogging is encroaching on your work or personal time in a negative way, then stop blogging. It’s just not worth it.
Sometimes blogging is just an excuse to get you fired. Sure, you might roll into work drunk, do very little work, backchat to your boss and fall asleep during the afternoon – but the reason they sacked you is because they found out you have a blog! I’m no expert on how easy it is to sack people, but I suspect that ‘gross misconduct’, ‘failure to follow Internet policy’, ‘bringing the company into disrepute’ and ‘Revealing company secrets’ are fairly easy things to get past an industrial appeal board. I would imagine that some of the people who have been fired or disciplined have comforted themselves with the thought that “it’s because I have a blog, that’s the only reason”. So be a good worker, then they won’t be so quick to sack you.
Just because you blog, it doesn’t make you special. Sure, you might have 10,000 pagehits a day, you are Slashdotted on a regular basis and you have Dave Weiner’s home phone number – but that means nothing to your boss. Blogging doesn’t bring with it a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card, you have no ‘Freedom of the Press’, and just because thousands of people hang on your every word – it doesn’t mean that they will help you keep your job. Blogging grants you no immunity to normal disciplinary procedures. Sorry about that.
Does this emasculate your blog? Well, perhaps a little – but if you are posting inflammatory lies about people, revealing industrial secrets and whining about how much your job both ‘sucks’, and ‘blows’, then be fully prepared to be fired. If you are writing things that are really that negative, ask yourself if you are in the right job. Journalists working in countries under a dictator need to be careful about what they write – and while you might not get thrown in prison, or worse, just be aware that bad things happen to people who rock the boat. It’s not fair, but it’s the way the world works.
Finally. If you do lose your job, you have a whole audience of people finding out about it, any of which might help you get a job. I know at least two people (people who I’ve met, not including people who I’ve read about), who have gotten jobs based on their blogging. In most cases people are happier with their new jobs than their old, if only because their new company understands and supports their blogging.
This, like everything that I create on this blog, is under a Creative Commons License – so please feel free to remix, edit and add your own observations to the above.