As long as there’s been blogging, people have lost their jobs for doing it. The cases are usually high-profile and well-covered in the media, because all of us can relate, in some way, to the basic conflict underlying these cases: an individual thinks he or she has the right to blog anything when not on the clock, while an employer who discovers the blog may take action if it contains content that is controversial, risqué or derogatory to the company. It’s a case of freedom of speech versus potential company liability, and despite the fact that bloggers have become more sophisticated about separating their blogging lives from their work lives, sensational cases still pop up with regularly.
One of the newest has added a new twist, as the Riverfront Times reports. A woman blogging anonymously about her sex life as “The Beautiful Kind” was “outed” to her employer by a glitch in her Twitter profile:
Where once The Beautiful Kind reposed, resplendent in lacy lingerie, chronicling the ins and outs of her polyamorous escapades, her blog now consists of a note from her "web guru" stating that "the site will remain closed until further notice" and implying that the virtual drapes have been drawn because the author's virtual fig leaf of anonymity had been stripped away. As it turned out, said outing had gotten her fired. When she arrived at work last Tuesday, TBK tells RFT, she was terminated on the spot. The cause: "a Twitter glitch" that came to light when her boss, at the suggestion of top management, performed Google searches seeking information about employees.
Unlike many such cases, this wasn’t a Luddite who didn’t grasp the dangers of blogging shocking subject matter. “TBK” thought she was covered by blogging anonymously: even in the seemingly unlikely instance that her bosses were to find her blog, she must have reasoned, how would they know it was her? But they did, on both counts:
"My boss said that they couldn't be associated with anyone who was posting graphic images and erotica, and they wanted me to pretend that I never even was there; they want nothing to do with me, they want to act like it never happened," recounts TBK, who had been in the position about a month.
That was the basic story, but the business site Inc.com did an excellent follow-up explaining the details, and why everyone needs to know about them:
TBK, as she's known, refers to what happened to her as a Twitter "glitch." But her webmaster clarified to Inc. that her downfall was really "in the failure of how third party search/archiving sites work." When TBK created her Twitter profile, she filled out her real name expecting that only her handle would be visible, not her true identity, her webmaster explained. The moment she saw her name pop up, she immediately removed it and adjusted the name field of her handle accordingly. But unfortunately, the Twitter search engine Topsy already had cached the details and was displaying her name alongside her handle all this time. (If you visit a profile on Topsy, there is a sync button on the right and a user has to manually select that in order to update any changed profile information.)
Topsy says they’re working to make it easier for users to protect their identity, but theirs isn’t the only service that could reveal a user’s identity. Meanwhile, TBK’s blog is back online, with a post from last weekend claiming that she is “not a sex blogger.”
Other recent stories may not be quite so exotic, but they have important lessons, as well. Ellen Simonetti blogged about her travels on “Diary of a Flight Attendant.” When her employer, Delta Airlines, decided they didn’t like what they called “inappropriate” pictures of her and other Delta employees in uniform, they took disciplinary action and then fired her. But it turned out they had a problem of their own—namely, a lack of explicit policy on the issue:
Simonetti, who had never faced disciplinary action before, promptly removed the photographs from the blog. But when she trolled elsewhere on the Web, she found other blogs with photos of Delta employees. She then scoured her company policy manual and found no rule prohibiting her from posting pictures of herself in uniform on the Web.Things got worse from there. After meeting with Delta management, Simonetti filed a sex discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The bottom line, as Samuel Greengard writes for Workforce.com, is that there is responsibility on both sides to avoid disasters like these:
UCLA’s professor of law Eugene Volokh says that employers in most states can fire an employee for pretty much any reason short of one’s sex or religion and have no obligation to allow free speech. But a termination in a blog transgression can be a case of winning the battle but losing the war. "Companies must understand that this isn’t just a random hobby that a few people are engaging in. It’s becoming a mainstream and widespread form of communication," Volokh says. "Employers must recognize that unless they accommodate blogging, they risk losing good people."…When all parties know the rules, it’s possible to give workers the freedom to post and avoid many mishaps and misunderstandings.