Everywhere I turn online these days I seem to read yet another story about someone who has been fired for blogging, or more accurately they have been fired for something they have written about their employer in their blog.
A quick search on Google (one of the most recent organizations to fire a blogger interestingly) reveals any number of these events.
I’m sure that in some of these cases the blog posting has only been an excuse for some manager who has been waiting to remove someone. However, even allowing for that, these recent spate of blog-related sackings raise some in interesting questions regarding how employers and employees can happily co-exist in the era of the public private diary.
Like everything else to do with good blog relations we should start with some good old common sense.
For the employee:
1) Think before you post…. you can discuss first amendment rights till the early hours of the morning but the reality is that what you write about on your blog is in the public domain from the minute you click on the publish button. Just because you’re participating in the “free love” world of blogging doesn’t mean that criticisms of your boss or employer will be less damaging – to you AND your boss.
2) Understand your working enviroment…. Some employers are less controlling than others. Some enjoy public debate and enjoy your independent critiques of their business and management style…. some won’t. Be sure you have a clear understanding of your employer’s position on these matters.
3) Use your common sense…. No employer will be happy with you broadcasting confidential commercial information over the “Interweb”, whether it’s future product plans, unannounced customers or the rumors you heard about how the company will probably miss the quarter from a friend in the finance department. These may sound far fetched but you’d be surprised. If you are unsure about something then ask your manager and document it. The best rule of thumb is that if you are unsure then err on the side of caution.
For the employer:
1) King Canute got wet…. As the number of bloggers continues to grow, there is a growing probability that some of your staff will or are already blogging. Acknowledge that fact and put in place a plan to deal with it.
2) Embrace blogs….. Employee blogs, either inside or outside the firewall, have the potential to make a positive contribution to your business. Find out who is blogging and why. Find out how you can support them.
3) Help your staff blog…. Most companies have clear implemented policies on employee usage of e-mail and the Internet. Consider having a similar policy for blogging – not for the purpose of censorship – but to help staff clearly understand what behavior and content is acceptable. The last thing you want to do is drive employee blogs underground.
A number of people have already published suggested corporate and personal guidelines for blogging, here are a few examples:
- Ray Ozzie @ Groove Networks
- Tim Bray at Sun and their Policy for Public Discourse
- George Dafermos on Corporate blog policy
- Rebecca Blood’s Weblog Ethics
- Microsoft’s Jorgen Thelin’s personal guidelines
Personal blogs, when written with good old fashioned common sense, can benefit the individual and the employer. However, straying from that path into confidential information, personal criticism or other related areas will damage both parties… to use an Irish phrase… a bit of ‘cop on’ goes a long way.
On a closely related topic, Jeremy Pepper today has a post on “Blogs and Libel” which includes interviews with David E. McCraw, Counsel for the New York Times and a local Arizona attorney.
“It’s (a blogger being sued for libel) going to happen that someone will blog, and the response will be a lawsuit. Look at all the high school journals with compromising photos of friends. It’s going to be something that willl be sued over – an intra-high schol suit that won’t get major coverage.
With blogs now being published under the writer’s name, and easily identifiable and writing on public topics, there’s no reason why blogs are not being sued for libel.”