Free Expression Can Be Costly When Bloggers Bad-Mouth Jobs
Fri Feb 11, 8:44 AM ET Technology - washingtonpost.com
By Amy Joyce, Washington Post Staff Writer
Under the pseudonym of Sarcastic Journalist, Rachel Mosteller wrote this entry on her personal Web log one day last April:
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"I really hate my place of employment. Seriously. Okay, first off. They have these stupid little awards that are supposed to boost company morale. So you go and do something 'spectacular' (most likely, you're doing your JOB) and then someone says 'Why golly, that was spectacular.' then they sign your name on some paper, they bring you chocolate and some balloons.
"Okay two people in the newsroom just got it. FOR DOING THEIR JOB."
This post, like all entries in Mosteller's online diary, did not name her company or the writer. It did not name co-workers or bosses. It did not say where the company was based. But apparently, Mosteller's supervisors and co-workers at the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun were well aware of her Web log.
The day after that posting, she was fired.
Bill Stagg, managing editor of the Herald-Sun, said he could not comment on a personnel matter. But Mosteller, 25, said the blog was one of the reasons she was given for losing her job, and she is still in shock. "Considering I treated the blog as a smoke break, I didn't think of it as a problem."
There are 8 million personal Web logs -- or blogs -- in the United States, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. People write blogs to talk about their day, family outings, dates gone awry and, of course, work. But what might feel like a very personal entry about a dismal workday can mean something quite different to a boss who needs only a search engine to read it.
"We all complain about work and our bosses. And the ethos of the blogosphere is to be chatty and sometimes catty and crude," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project. "Even in an era of casual Fridays, that is not what companies want to be portrayed by the world."
Even if workers write the blog anonymously, an employer may be able to take the position that blogging "is inconsistent with the business mission," said Jonathan A. Segal, an employment attorney in Philadelphia.
Usually the blogger has little protection. "In most states," said Gregg M. Lemley, a St. Louis labor lawyer, "if an employer doesn't like what you're talking about, they can simply terminate you."
And that is happening enough that there is even a word for it -- getting "dooced." Blogger Heather B. Armstrong coined the phrase in 2002, after she was fired from her Web design job for writing about work and colleagues on her blog, Dooce.com.
Although workers have been writing blogs for years, companies have been slow to create policies to cover them. "Most employers as of now do not have blogging policies, just as 10 years ago they didn't have e-mail policies and now they do," Segal said.
E-mail and Internet policies that have been developed were created to deal with improper employee usage during work hours. Very few companies have rules governing employee computer habits outside work.
Last October, Delta Air Lines flight attendant Ellen Simonetti was fired, she said, for what her supervisor called a misuse of uniform. Simonetti had posted on her personal blog, Queen of Sky (now called Diary of a Fired Flight Attendant), pictures of herself, in her uniform, on an empty plane. Her blog also contained thinly veiled work stories.
The airline would not discuss the firing, or whether it has a blog policy. But Simonetti has become something of a blog heroine. She filed a complaint against Delta with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming many men were pictured in their uniforms on other Web sites and were not fired. And she started a "Bloggers Rights Movement" calling on other bloggers to sign a petition demanding that companies let employees know their blog policies.
"We can't just let our employers trample our rights. I think there should be clear policies about blogging," she said.
Michael Hanscom started his blog, Eclecticism, before 2000, as a way to keep in touch with family and collect things he found on the Internet. A fan of Apple computers, he found himself working at a temporary job with Xerox on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash.
Hanscom said his family teased him that he would burst into flames when he walked onto the Microsoft campus. So one day, when he noticed a pallet of Macs -- the same version he just bought for himself -- ready to be delivered to Microsoft, he took a picture and posted it. "It struck my sense of humor," he said.
A few days after Hanscom posted the picture, he said, his Xerox manager called him into an office. The manager had Hanscom's blog up, and asked if the picture was his. Hanscom said it was, but said it was posted on his own time, on his own computer. According to Hanscom, the manager then said because it was posted on his own space and time, the company couldn't ask him to take it down, but he could never come to the Microsoft campus again.
"It makes sense, really," Hanscom said. "I've tried since then to look at it from their point of view. I never gave away any secrets, but I was in a position where I saw a lot."
An Atlanta blogger who goes by Karsh says he was fired from a sales position in January after he blogged on company time. He was not so contrite. The writer of BGB, or Black Gay Blogger, said his boss wanted him to apologize for the things he had said about his fellow employees.
Since the other workers were not named, he did not think it was necessary, he said. "I feel like it's been said and done."
The blogger renamed his supervisor "Skeletor" and "Wednesday Addams" in an entry about the confrontation. When the was told he would be demoted and had to dismantle his site, he quit, he said.
It is possible to write a private blog, where only those with passwords can sign in to read the entries. But part of being a blogger is wanting to be heard.
The author of Waiter Rant, an anonymous blog about life as a waiter in a New York restaurant, writes mostly about bad experiences with customers. "The rage had to go somewhere," he explained.
At first, he said, he did not tell anyone about the blog. He especially didn't want his mother to read it. But he became frustrated the blog was getting no attention so one day he sent a link to a popular blogger in England. Today, the anonymous waiter has more than 1,000 readers a day.
"At some point, I started to care who read it," the waiter said. "Anyone who produces anything, you like feedback."
That is one reason so many people who expect their entries to be read and pondered forget that those posts could cause some major problems. "They persist, they are uncontextualized, and they come back to haunt you," said Rebecca Blood, a San Francisco blogger and author of "The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog."
Blood believes in rules. The companies that have them are typically on the cutting edge of technology, and in a growing number of cases they are not only permitting blogs, but encouraging them as a sort of homegrown marketing tool.
Sun Microsystems Inc. encourages employees to blog on company time and within company space, then posts the blogs on a dedicated site.
"It seems quite plausible that blogging is a good way to increase the communication channel between the company and the world, and help in community building," said Tim Bray, a blogger and director of Web technologies at Sun. When Sun opened a space on its site in April for employee blogs, it also suggested that writers write just what they know and refrain from revealing revenue, financial figures or other company secrets.
Google Inc., the search engine company, has a blog for employees that shares such things as stories about the company dog and the person who creates the holiday art at Google.com. "It sort of turned into a very informal access to the public," said Biz Stone, a senior specialist at Google and author of "Who Let the Blogs Out?: A Hyperconnected Peek at the World of Weblogs."
But Google had its own controversy recently when a blog by employee Mark Jen suddenly went dark, sparking a flurry of speculation on what had happened to him.
When he returned, Jen explained his absence by saying, "I goofed and put up some stuff on my blog that's not supposed to be there" but that Google had been "pretty cool about all this" and adding, "thanks for and sorry for the frenzy of speculation."
Then the site went dead again. Yesterday, Google confirmed that Jen is no longer an employee, but the company would not discuss why. Jen could not be reached, but in a posting Wednesday, he said he would be back with more details.
By the next morning, about 50 people had written in, wondering if he had been dooced.
this from espn....
The University of Florida has offered its coaching job to Urban Meyer, who accepted today, ESPN.com's Pat Forde has learned.
Florida papers reported the offer to Meyer, who has coached Utah to a 12-0 season and a BCS bowl bid, on their Web sites Friday morning.
The Backer told me about the possibility of Meyer to ND when we went to the BC game in October. But it looks as though the Gators have robbed the cradle...
So who will take Ty's place now...?
''I love Notre Dame. I went to high school there. My dad coached Joe Montana and Vagas Ferguson there. I'm not a candidate for that job. I've got the best job in football and I've got to work hard to keep it. I wish Notre Dame well, I'll always be a big fan, but I guarantee I'm no candidate for that job.''
Well hats off to the bosox
Well..no hats off to Boston...
I know what is like, sorta...the bucs went through 27 years
The Lightning went through 12 years...86 is a long time...I take umbrage (sic) though with some of the circumstances!!!!
Curt Schilling--what an idiot Fox Sports made this guy...he has a flipping scab on his ankle and he is a "hero"? He makes 18million a year...I say you get your ass out there and do what you are paid to do..he isn't special...Derek Lowe...now that guy pitched his ass off...
Pedro Martinez--this guy shouldn't even be able to ... you know what I won't even waste my time on this jabroni
Manny Ramirez --- post game interview "I just thankS god"...."it is just our destination"?...and he gets the MVP?...the guy nearly did a greg louganis special in game 1...back to back errors..whatever
I love Millar, Varitek, Lowe, Foulke...great guys...but you know the Yankees catch so much shit, cuz they "bought" their rings...hello schilling, martinez, ramirez, ortiz, damon...give me a break..
Enjoy it Boston, you have waited too long...AAARGH...next year is the year of the DRAYS