This post was inspired by one of my favourite bloggers, Rory Blyth on his blog Neopoleon (I’m sure he isn’t dumb enough to twice fall for someone linking to him in the hope of being mentioned but you never know). Essentially, Rory has close to no filtering between his brain and his blog posts. He uses his real name, occasionally real photos of himself, talks about his employer (Microsoft) and frequently posts on incredibly personal topics including his relationships, his family and mental illness. He explored the topic of “rules” for blogging under the heading “Blogging is stupid” and his take is essentially the idea of rules for blogging is stupid.
On this topic I have to disagree. There are most definitely rules for blogging but they will be different for each person and situation. As far as I’m concerned the rules for blogging are the same as your rules for life. If there is something you wouldn’t say or do in your real life, if you wouldn’t say it to your family, if you wouldn’t say it at work, if you wouldn’t walk down the street shouting it at the top of your lungs, then saying it on a blog is borderline insanity.
You don’t have to analyse this blog too carefully to see where I stand. I write under a pseudonym and wear a mask in my videos although it would take a determined person (or someone who knew me) five seconds to work out it was me. I generally avoid specifics unless I am writing about very public figures. I almost never post on personal issues, again, at least not on specifics. These rules are not applicable to everyone. These rules are mine and they are self imposed. In fact, I thought them all through quite carefully before I even started this blog.
The big fear in the blogosphere is getting “dooced”. The term means getting fired for something you did online and is so-named in honour of Heather Armstrong who lost her job for things she posted on her blog, Dooce. Another case in the news today doesn’t involve a blog but is about getting sacked for online activity involves Melanie Martinez, a presenter for a kids’ show on America’s PBS being sacked for a video she did a few years ago called “Technical Virgin”. The video wasn’t even vaguely pornographic but I find it hard to believe that a presenter for a kids’ show could be so naive as to think that performing comedy related to sex wouldn’t come back to haunt her. I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be a presenter on a kids’ show.
I want to make it clear that I don’t support sacking Dooce, Ms Martinez or pretty much anyone else for what they do online but I’m not surprised by it. The IT job market that I have to work in is small, conservative and gossipy. For this reason I’m never specific when talking about work-related issues but I do talk about work. With quite some vehemence at times. I have worked for several managers who would freak out at the idea of me blogging about the shit they go on with and doubtless will be forced to work with such losers again in the future.
To deal with this risk I made three decisions. (1) Don’t be specific. (2) Be sort of anonymous. (3) Be prepared to lose a job because of my blog. I made the third decision consciously a while back. I’m no millionaire but I get paid more than I ever thought I would. My skills in the current job market just let me earn a shitload (by my estimation anyway). The thing is, I have to compete for the high paying jobs. I have decided, if worst comes to worst, to go for lower paying jobs where I’ll be wildly overqualified compared to other applicants. When I say lower paid I mean still considerably more than average but less than I’m getting now.
If you’re not prepared to make a similar decision stop blogging now. Even if you never blog about work. Stop blogging now. Even if you think nothing you write is offensive. Stop blogging now. Because the world is full of fuckwits. And you’ll end up working for one of them. And they’ll think they have the right to pass judgement on your blog. I don’t think they do but then again, I’m not your employer.
That’s the general points about work issues and blogging but here are some specifics. If you slander someone you deserve to pay for it. Grow a brain. If you are posting to a “company” blog and say negative/offensive/abusive things I think you’re insane. That obviously makes me a wuss but I think tying your personal voice to your employer is crazy. If you’re work involves getting paid by the government and you use a blog to criticise the government, well, I’m all for dissent (duh!) but I think only an idiot would be surprised by getting some blowback. A recent case involved a contractor working at the CIA getting dooced after a blog post criticising the Bush administration’s policy on torture. I think Bush’s pro-torture stance is an abomination against humanity but, seriously, you expect to keep a job at the CIA after saying that publicly?
A few thoughts on blogging about personal topics. Obviously I’m quite conservative in this area. I almost never mention personal things and when I do it’s in the most general terms. I never use names. I think this makes me a very small minority in the blogging world and I’m fine with that. For those who focus their blogs on personal issues I say “good on you!” But I really hope you thought it through before doing so and you’re not simply spouting off without considering the consequences. I’ve seen dozens of blogs where the writer is essentially committing relationship suicide. They say such personal things about themselves, their partners, their friends and their families while clearly having no idea if the people they’re writing about find their blog they will end up absolutely hated.
Several of the names in my blogroll write about personal issues extremely well and their confidence shows they know exactly what’s happening. So, writing about personal issues having thought through the potential repercussions = good. Spouting off incredibly personal details because “it’s just my blog and it doesn’t matter what I write” = plain fucking stupid. MySpace is basically a series of hand grenades waiting to explode and destroy thousands of lives. I suspect one day even Scoble is going to regret having provided so many details about his family through his blog.
So essentially, my number one rule for blogging is write whatever you want so long as you are prepared for the consequences. Imagine what the worst case scenario for you is. Now come to terms with the fact the worst case scenario has already come true for many, many people. Only an idiot would think it isn’t going to happen to them.