My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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“nobody’s ever been fired for blogging”

I think Anil is probably dead-on with this post of his and it really made me think. In essence:

“Nobody’s ever been fired for blogging.” Instead, they are fired for bad judgment, in the same way that they would be if they said anything else in a public forum of any sorts.

But the zinger to this is “Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re hurting us. You’re hurting all weblogs.” (I originally read the ‘you’ as referring to the fired bloggers who are engaging in poor judgment, but a closer look makes it clear that the ‘you’ also includes us bloggers who spread the gossip.)

– The political bloggers are framing blogging as the thing that gets journalists fired
– The tech bloggers are framing blogging as the thing that gets regular people fired

Why on earth would anyone want to blog when it seems like all blogging is is a way to get fired? Worse: the ‘firings’ get framed as a free speech issue instead of a good judgment issue.

I should note that i don’t know the specifics of any case of ‘firing’ except what i read in the media/blogs. Anil’s post made me really think about what our responsibility as “gossip spreaders” is and should be. I’ve definitely posted information about firing rumors in the past, thereby engaging in exactly what Anil points out is harmful. I’ve done so more because i’m curious about the situation than because i believe that it is true. That said, i can totally see how this can be misinterpreted by people that read what i write. In other words, if i accept that everyday people read my blog or that my blog becomes a source of material that eventually gets to everyday people, i’m engaging in precisely the problematic behavior that results in giving everyday people the impression that blogging can get you fired. ::gulp::

I think that’s the key to Anil’s post – realizing that as much as i want to think that i’m blogging just for my friends, i’m not and it wouldn’t matter because i am being read by at least someone. As such, as a blogger with an audience >1, i’m actually accountable for representing blogging to the public. So, my bitching represents blogging… as does my gossip spreading. I hate that weight, but he’s right. Grr.

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15 comments to “nobody’s ever been fired for blogging”

  • Rudy

    Tell me about it . . .

  • I think the first assumption is right, i.e. saying that people are being fired “for blogging” is wrong. As you say, people are fired for individual acts of misjudgment that happen to involve weblogs. The misjudgment could just as easily involve cucumbers.

    But isn’t the conclusion you draw also wrong, and for exactly the same reason? The medium is not responsible for how it is used. Doesn’t your bitching (I don’t know if you bitch or not by the way) similarly only represent your judgment expressed through the weblog? (Unfortunately, I can’t work the cucumber into this part of the analogy without sounding barmy, but you get my point).

  • danah– Rebecca Blood suggested I check our your readings/research a couple of weeks back; I was looking for smart people (esp. women) whose ideas not include to the Harvard “webcred” conference. Anyways, this post of yours today brings up the issue of the many flavors of blogging. I put together a research paper which reflects on past categorization proposals, present consternation with the elastic use of the term blogging, and a suggestion for some clear archetypes– Presenting Blogger Archetypes (5,000 words). Rebecca gave me a bit of advice as I was putting it together, and I thought it might be of interest to readers of this topic.

    And on that point, the political bloggers are mostly comprised of wingers who are just winging it most of the time. The problem is that they take their cues from the A-list, who wing it politically as well, yet most of the A-list’s experience is from the Whitmanesque singer tradition of blogging. And those of us are highly focused on particular subjects and research certain areas are stringers— who follow the values from journalism (and life, for that matter) of discretion.

    Jon

  • Hey,

    I never got fired for blogging – I found its safer not to mention who you work for in the first place. You’re absolutely right about it not being blogging that gets people fired – its inappropriate remarks made on the blog. People would probably not say that kind of stuff to a journalist, but they will let the rest of the world read it on their blog.

    I’m just starting out in this whole blog thing – i you have any ideas which could help me to improve the experience I would be grateful.

  • "John Doe"

    Someone from my company was fired last year for posting something on a web forum. Not a blog, but equally public. He said some bad things about a vendor whose software we used, and implied that the company might drop its contract with the vendor (although he was not in a position to know any such thing.) He was talking out of his butt, and it was way out of line. Terrible judgment.

    I agree with you that it’s the message, not the medium.

  • Bruce Barry

    I am an academic working on a book on freedom of speech and expression in and around the workplace. I would welcome contact from people who have been disciplined or dismissed for expressive activity, online or otherwise. Many thanks.

    Regarding the subject of the post itself: Sure, some bloggers (or online forum posters) who say truly inappropriate things or reveal proprietary information about their employers are being fired for acting stupidly, not for blogging. There are, however numerous cases in and out of the courts over the last couple of decades of individuals disciplined or fired for speech that really could and should be protected, but for an employment-at-will system that does not protect one’s political opinions from employer sanction. This is, by the way, not the case in many other countries. The right to have and express political opinions without being punished by an employer is embedded in an international labor rights convention that 160 countries have ratified (but not the U.S., it will perhaps not surprise you to learn).

  • Thanks, Mr. Barry, that’s where I was going, and you got there first.

    What is *with* this automatic assumption that anything an employer objects to an employee saying is automatically wrong? That an employer is *right* to fire somebody — and without warning, too — over something said in public?

    Not saying, by the way, that that’s always wrong — just that it’s not always *right*, either, yet it sure seems to be treated that way, in this case and others.

  • More blogginers weigh in on blog “firings”

    Anil Dash and Danah Boyd are extremely popular bloggers.

  • I think you and Anil make a good point, which is essentially “For maximum job security, don’t be an idiot in any medium.” But I do think there is something peculiar about the blog medium itself that is pushing on the boundary of public vs. private in new ways. In some of the “fired for blogging” cases there is a clear place one might point to that says “the information they published should have remained private,” but when you look at a case like the Mark Jen case, it’s still really not clear that he divulged any specific item or items that were trade secrets of some sort – it’s more that Google seems to have taken issue with his general level of openness in what he was talking about on his blog, and that’s a grey area that has been opened up by the blogging medium itself, because there’s a much larger corpus of speech (rather, writing) that bloggers routinely make public. In other words, the advent of blogging means there are a hell of a lot more of us with a large body of printed communication that is up for scrutiny. It’s bound to lead to more of these grey area decisions; imagine a health insurance company refusing to provide coverage to a new employee who gets diagnosed with a serious illness, because they check his blog and find that he started talking about his symptoms for several months before joining the company and signing up for the health plan. Is that an acceptable practice, because one could argue there is a public record of a pre-existing condition? These are the kind of things we might want to give thought to before we see them start happening.

    I think the fact that there is no “scarcity” in the medium – the time and cost between experience and the public sharing of that experience have fallen to zero – does in some way tweak the fundamental idea of what ought to be private versus what ought to be public, and brings in to sharp focus the fact that every person and every entity operates at a different frequency in this regard. And it stirs in me a deeper question about ownership of experience – there is part of me that wants to believe that anything that happens to me is in a sense “owned” by me – I was there, I experienced it and I know it to be true. However, there are all kinds of cases in which I am asked to suspend my ownership of that experience, because the other parties involved have some sort of power to decide that I am not allowed to disclose details about it – I have lost the right to convey that experience. I’m not saying it’s never justified, but I am saying that it’s a rather interesting bargain for so many of us to strike so frequently.

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