Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Blogging and the Workplace....

It's Julie Day. This week's question is multi-layered. What about free speech and blogging? Should there be consequences for what we blog? How about workplace blogging? How about the courts?

When it comes to free speech, I am a purist. That is to say.... any of us have the right to blog about anything we choose. With that comes responsibility. The first rule of blogging, in my opinion, is "do no harm".

The consequences can be varied. If you write drivel, people will probably think you're an idiot and not read what you have to say. If you defame someone, they have the right to sue. If you encourage others to commit an illegal act, or admit to committing an illegal act, there will probably be legal consequences. If you are the propaganda minister for Al Qaeda, you will have all the western intelligence services monitoring you. If you threaten someone's life, you'll end up in jail.

That said, you still have the right to say it as long as you are willing to deal with the blowback.

As for workplaces and blogging, I believe employers have no right to limit or restrict blogging, except during the workday on their systems. Unless someone has a classified position, in which case he or she will be monitored by security personnel, no employer has the right to butt into the personal lives of employees. Even someone with a classified position has the right to blog as long as he or she does not blog about sensitive material. If he or she blogs about Contingency of Government plans, it will mean some time at Leavenworth. Barring that, give the director of the CIA a WordPress template. Bring it on!

When I was still working, I was one of the few employees whose access to the Internet was not restricted. Most of us in the IT department spent large chunks of our day on the Internet because it was necessary for our jobs. No one particularly cared what we did when there wasn't something pressing and most people walking by would see "yahoo", "CNN", some sports site or eBay up on someone's screen. My guess is that some people probably blogged. At night, I used to listen to radio shows on the Internet.

Employers come up with a million excuses for restricting access but they're flimsy and transparent. I know this because I used to have to spit it out like pablum when people would ask to have their access unrestricted. Security, open ports, viruses, blah blah blah. It's all nonsense. Any company with decent computer security will not have that problem. (Just as an aside, AIM or any of the teleconferencing software [chat rooms] will create security problems but that's unrelated. Access to the web or the mail server will not cause that condition.)

Employers enjoy too much control already in our lives. In the sick recesses of their own foul dark little minds, they believe it's appropriate to control what an employee does at home. We're hearing more and more of these cases come up in court. Employees are property and therefore owe undying allegiance to the company store. Everything they do is considered to be a reflection on the company.

Baloney! It's not appropriate and they need a slapdown. In this respect, I am completely in line with the libertarians. What people do in the privacy of their own homes is their own business. No one else's. It seems that once they gained access to our body fluids, all bets were off and they assume unlimited access to every other facet of our lives.

There was a woman who got fired for blogging. I don't remember the specifics but I recall the general circumstances. Was it Dooce by chance? She was saying things her employer didn't like. She was writing about her coworkers and conditions at work.

She may have sued the pants off them and if she did, I hope she won.

Working people need to be talking about these things. We need to be sharing our experiences, our pay, and our conditions. It's a good idea to remember that a lot of these rules have nothing to do with the security of the companies. It has to do with the security of those in charge. They don't like it when we talk to each other. Blogs can serve as guerrilla journalism so they want to restrict it.

So.. as always in a workplace, keep your mouth shut, your butt down, your back to the wall and your powder dry.

In the privacy of your own home, outside the workplace at a restaurant or bar, at the gym or at your keyboard, let it rip! Blog until your fingers are numb. We want to hear what you have to say.



Say It said...

You just said a mouthful! An amazing mouthful.

I can understand my boss not wanting me working on personal pursuits at work. I get that. But when I'm not at work, I can't imagine he would have a say.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think an employer has the right to expect that the people he pays, (or underpays, which while extremely valid, is not relevant here)to spend their time and energy on company business if there is something that needs to be done.

But no one has the right to determine what we do at home as slavery has been outlawed in this country, much as some employers deplore that condition. We are still the sole (soul?) owners of ourselves and if we lose that freedom, life will not be worth living anymore.

flutter said...

Libel and slander being as they are, employer rights extend to when employees badmouth the entity. Especially when the employee has entered into a contract wherein arbitration comes into play.

Mariposa said...

Oh, this post made me love you more Chani! I draft the corporate policy, bec I dictate the course of our continuous improvement, and I have to fight battles everyday. Just the other day, the issue was on limiting internet access including junior managers...my stand on the issue is, if security is the issue, then that is the IT Department's worry...and if it is productivity, then, their superior must be keen in their management style. I believe the internet is good source of knowledge, given that we utilize it for good.

I would love my boss to read my blog...what I have been ranting, I've told her in the face...of course less the emotional words... ;)

And, freedom of expression cannot be undermined...we may stop them at work, but they will always find an avenue to air their side...and yes, what I do outside work is my business!

Thanks for this post Chani!

jen said...

i love this. i do think that it's ok (coming at this from one who supervises others) to expect them to get their work done - and not get paid to blog all day but otherwise, i don't care to know the personal items folks look at - nor do i want folks eyeing mine.

Krissie said...

absolutely! oh yeah!!I totally agree... we need that freedom to be ourselves at home!!

Blog Antagonist said...

I agree with you to a point. But there are degrees of disclosure, and when it comes to another person's privacy, there are ethical considerations. Blogging about bosses and co-workeres is one thing, but divulging names and details of people's personal lives is over the line, imo.

Also, with freedom comes responsibility, which people seem to forget. And if one cannot accept that responsibility, one has to be prepared to face the consequences.

I think, as with anything, one just has to exercise some common sense.

Anonymous said...

There is something to be said for discretion being more powerful, however.

niobe said...

I'm sufficiently paranoid about getting in trouble with the people I work for that I try to say as little as possible about my job.

blooming desertpea said...

Yup - free speech with your basic rules!

Julie Pippert said...

You picked up and tackled the points I had really hoped someone would, especially the workplace angle.

I do think some employers go way over the line. Sometime back, you and I discussed (posted, commented, etc.) the overbred sense of entitlement and ownership employers have towards their employees and their employees time and loyalty.

I think there is a reasonable expectation of nondisclosure.

Then there is over the line, and I hear more and more over the line stories than otherwise.

Employers saying no blogging, period, as a condition of employment, for example. In that case, it wasn't "no blogging on company time or equipment" (reasonable) it was "no blogging period" (unreasonable).

The employer, in essence, was afraid of being Dooced (if you can apply that term back the other way).

Nondisclosure and employee handbook guidelines can manage that.

Violation could result in termination.

Both of those are reasonable.

To just broadbrush forbid it is not, and reflects, I think, that overbred entitlement and narrow-minded punitive style thought. Fear. It shows fear. And distrust.

I find the underlying elements the most concerning of all.

Clamping down on freedom of speech within blogging is the symptom.

FTR, it was Heather Armstrong of Dooce. I believe she was dismissed as a result of what she wrote but not because of it.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

We have so few rights in this country other than freedom of speech (ie. no right to health care, decent wages, vacation time, etc., etc. that are the rights of most citizens in other industrialized nations) that we really, really need to hold on to this one.

Great post.

we_be_toys said...

Hear, Hear! Very nicely put!

Thailand Musings said...

There is absolutely no way that our employers should have anything to do or say about what we do when we're on our own time. If my employer or potential employer told me that I was not allowed to blog AT ALL I would run in the other direction.

There are already enough instances of censorship and denial of our basic liberties that to accept more is simply unbearable.

Fortunately I am also in the IT field with unlimited access to the internet and my boss doesn't care what I'm doing so long as I get my work done properly and on time. One of the major factors that keeps me at my current employers is the fact that I can do research, blog, read others blogs, etc. when I'm here. If that were taken away I think I would be moving on rather quickly.

Anonymous said...

I try not to include anything about work unless it is relevant. I live in fear of divulging something I can get sued for...that's what I get for working in a sue-happy industry, I spose...

Christine said...

i'd be scared as hell to write about my work if i had a job--too manythings can be taken the wrong way and then everything would go wrong.

Running on empty

Janet said...

Funny, I had almost this exact conversation with my sisters on the weekend. My youngers sister is only 25 so she blogs and is a heavy facebook user. My older sister does neither and believes that you need to be really careful about what you put on the Internet because you never know whose hands it will end up in. She was speaking mostly from a professional, workplace point of view.

I don't think an employer should have the right to restrict you from blogging on your own time. And I don't believe that people should have the right to edit what other people say. However, there is something to be said for self-editing. There are so many delicious topics to discuss out here that it's probably pretty easy to avoid talking about your workplace.