Your Online Writing Life: Protect Your Reputation — and Future (Part Four)
Pseudonym: A fictitious name used by an author to conceal his or her identity.
Lots of authors have written under pen names, the most well-known being Mark Twain whose real name was Samuel Clemens. C.S. Lewis wrote poetry as “Clive Hamilton,” and the early science fiction works of Robert Heinlein were first published under a different author name. Nora Roberts pens romance novels, but her alter-ego, J.D. Robb, authors thrillers.
And bloggers are no exception. A short blog-hopping excursion will reveal that many blogs are authored by writers under what appear to be their actual names, but many more bear obvious pen names.
Regardless of whether you write online using your real name or under a pseudonym, you must be aware that your identity can and may be revealed. You can never assume that you will remain anonymous. Because all online activity is logged and can be tracked, your online activities are discoverable, and can be revealed, resulting in significant consequences in your real life.
Just ask Sam Wakim, former candidate for the California Assembly. He was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in November 2006. But he resigned from that position in August 2007, after the Governor’s Office learned that, in 2005, he reprinted an image of a faux illegal-immigrant driver’s license on a personal website that he operated under the pseudonym “Abu David.” The mock driver’s license was in the same format as standard California licenses, but featured a caricature-like photo of a Latino wearing an over-sized sombrero. Moreover, across the top of the license, the word “Mexifornia” replaced the usual “California” and “mucho” was listed as the holder’s gender, rather than the standard “male.” Although Wakim did not create the image and it has appeared on numerous websites, he was responsible for uploading and publishing it on his own site.
Then-California Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata correctly observed that “State appointees represent all of California. There’s no place for people who indulge in that level of hate speech.” Today, Wakim’s official website bears an undated message addressed to his supporters in which he blames the impact of the rigors of running a campaign upon his family for his decision to “suspend” his Assembly campaign.
We all have opinions about the issues of the day. But the way we express them and the forum in which we choose to voice our thoughts can have long-lasting consequences upon our current and future employability.
Before posting anything on the Internet, it is always best to assume that your true identity will be known and your words ascribed directly to you. Applying that standard of scrutiny, even if you are writing under a pseudonym, will enable you to analyze whether your words are consistent with and will be found acceptable by your current and potential future employers. Obviously, if you engage in any form of hate speech, as Wakim did, there can and should be severe repercussions.
But even seemingly benign comments must be considered carefully.
For instance, before you post about a company or product with which you have had personal experience, stop and evaluate whether that company does business with your employer. Your words might not only reflect badly upon your employer — and you — but also jeopardize the two organizations’ ongoing relationship, thereby impacting your future with that entity.
Before you weigh in on a particular issue in a public forum, consider whether it is a matter that impacts your employer’s business, image or stated mission. If your public declaration is at odds with your employer’s stance, you will want to choose your words carefully in order to assure that readers clearly understand you are voicing only your personal feelings and opinions, and are not serving as a spokesperson for your employer. Even then, it may be dangerous to publicly voice disagreement, depending upon your position within the organization. For instance, if you are one of the organization’s policy-makers, yet you publicly part company with your employer’s position on an issue, you may be deemed to have an irreconcilable conflict of interest that requires you to seek other employment.
Trade secrets, customer or client names, and other confidential information must remain so, irrespective of whether you adopt a pen name. Codes of ethics, employment agreements and contracts, workplace policies, applicable laws and regulations, and general business principles contain no loophole for the revelation of sensitive or confidential information. George Clooney may have generously been willing to overlook the breach of confidentiality concerning his medical history that occurred following his recent minor motorcycle accident. But the hospital that announced it was disciplining the employees who leaked details to the press was not only justified, but compelled to follow through despite Clooney’s lenient attitude in order to protect its interests, enforce its policies, and assure that employees understand that such conduct cannot be tolerated.
Earlier today, I happened upon a reality television show featuring Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner. He was speaking to one of his stepdaughters about photos of her that appeared on the Internet. His advice was accurate and wise: He counseled her to think carefully about the manner in which she conducts herself because the technology that drives our society assures that information made public has an infinite “shelf life.”
As he put it, any information disseminated via the Internet today could well remain accessible for so many years that “your grandchildren will be looking at it.” What you write online today has the potential to impact your personal and professional reputation for decades to come, so always post cautiously and responsibly!
Originally published at Write Stuff.