Your Online Writing Life: Protect Your Reputation — and Future (Part Three)
It wasn’t that long ago that blogging was a concept embraced only by the ultra-techy. How quickly the world changed. These days, maintaining a personal blog is commonplace. In fact, many bloggers have multiple sites. A great percentage are authored under pseudonyms.
For good reason?
“Dooced” is the term coined in 2002 by Heather Armstrong after she was terminated from her job as a web designer for sharing stories and opinions about her coworkers and workplace in her personal blog. Today, Heather and her husband support their family solely from the income generated by their site, Dooce.
In 2004, Ellen Simonetti’s eight-year tenure as a Delta Airlines Flight Attendant crashed when her bosses learned about her “Queen of Sky” blog where she posted photos of herself and colleagues — in uniform — inside an empty jet. Delta was not amused, even though she removed the photos. She’s still blogging, and published her blog as a book entitled Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant: The Queen of Sky Blog.
More recently, a blogger was terminated from his employment for inaccurately reporting that his employer had filed a bankruptcy petition. The company has filed suit against him.
And Chaz Pazienza’s career at CNN ended just last month because of the opinionated entries he published online which, according to the network, violated its policy, communicated via the employee handbook, that any writing done for a “non-CNN outlet” must be approved by the network’s standards and practices department. Pazienza argues that he never received a copy of the handbook and, more importantly, the policy cited by his employer is so vague and ambiguous that he could never have reasonably anticipated that it would extend to blog posts.
In each instance, the blogger’s justifications and legal arguments may be compelling. But that doesn’t change the fact that they all have one thing in common: Termination from lucrative positions that permanently clouds their employment histories.
Their high-profile cases are representative of countless unpublicized instances in which employees have lost their jobs as a result of online activities.
Each of the four bloggers mentioned felt that they were singled out by their employers and treated unfairly by being subjected to harsher discipline than their numerous coworkers who were doing the very same thing.
Pazienza, in particular, claims that CNN disavowed knowledge of other employees’ online activities, contending that, to their knowledge, he was the only employee blogging under his real name. In fact, CNN specifically acknowledged, according to Pazienza, that there are “people within the company whose job is specifically to research this kind of thing in regard to employees.”
In my opinion, all bloggers who hold jobs should conduct themselves as though their employer engages in the same practice. In other words, every individual who maintains a blog, irrespective of whether he/she reveals his/her true identity, should, as a precaution, presume that his/her employer is monitoring his/her online activities — and behave accordingly.
The old cliche “business and pleasure don’t mix” is probably nowhere truer than in the context of maintaining a personal blog.
As a practical matter, before mentioning any aspect of one’s professional life in a personal blog, it would be wise to do what Pazienza did not: Research what, if anything, the company-published employee handbook says about off-time activities, including but not limited to disclosure of information about any aspect of the employer’s organization and/or workplace, orally or in writing. If in doubt, consult the human resources department and get clarification before launching a blog and authoring the initial blog post.
Even if the company has not disseminated a policy specifically addressing the situation, consider what you have to gain by blogging about your workplace and/or colleagues as compared to what you stand to lose if your employer discovers and disapproves of your online activities. In most instances, you will find that sharing stories about what a dunderhead your supervisor is, the boss’ affair with your coworker, the production department’s latest snafu or why your latest performance evaluation was neither fair nor accurate, accompanied by whining about the amount of your latest salary increase, simply is not worth the risk of finding yourself unemployed and, perhaps, facing litigation and subsequent liability as a result of your actions.
Moreover, before you monetize your blog, you would be wise to double-check your company’s conflict of interest policy to assure that you will not be violating an applicable prohibition on earnings from other particular types of organizations. If, for instance, you plan to sell advertising on your site, you must confirm that you are able to restrict the ads which appear on your site so as to assure that you do not advertise for your employer’s competitor(s), thereby violating the terms of your employment agreement.
It should go without saying that, at all times, you must blog truthfully, accurately and with integrity. If you write under your own name and choose to reveal your profession and/or the name of your employer, make sure that you correctly identify yourself, your position, and status with the organization. To the extent that you reveal details about your personal life, do so truthfully because you never know who might visit your site and forward information gathered there to your superiors.
Your reputation for veracity and exhibiting good judgment are always at issue, on or off-line.
Experience with these or related issues? Leave a comment!
Also published at Write Anything.