Sunday, December 7, 2008

When bloggers attack... or, you know, write about stuff they see

As you may have heard, another blogger has been dooced.


For those of you who aren't yet familiar with all the lingo, being dooced refers to being fired as a result of one's blog, so coined because of the unfortunate experiences of the now infamous Dooce.

New York based Belgian blogger Natalie Bakker works at a Belgian themed bar. On a recent night, she recognized the Belgian minister of the defense, along with some other government employees. The next day, on her blog, she wrote of her embarrassment over her fellow countryman's drunken behaviour. She also expressed frustration at the fact that another staff member had told her their trip to NYC was funded by taxpayers, and despite the fact that the UN meeting they were planning to attend had been moved to Geneva, they decided to go trough with the trip because they had never been to New York. (you can read the details of the story here)

A few days later, Natalie's employer received a phone call from the defense minister's office, and soon afterwards, she was fired. It is unclear whether the minister directly requested her termination or not.

Upon being confronted, the defense minister made the following quote, speaking of the danger of bloggers and their freedom to post information at will:
I want to take this opportunity and use this non-event to signal a dangerous phenomenon in our society. We live in a time where everybody is free to publish whatever he or she wants on blogs at will without taking any responsibility. This exceeds mud-slinging. Together with you, other Parliament members and the government I find that it’s nearly impossible to defend yourself against this. Everyone of you is a potential victim. I would like to ask you to take a moment and think about this.
So, while a journalist would have been lauded for gaining information about a scandal arguably relevant to the public, a blogger who receives and publishes the same information is fired.

Paparazzi are allowed to set up camp outside a celebrity's front door and try to gain access every iota of information about what they had for breakfast in order to splay it all over the newsstands and the web. In contrast, a politician, who, by his very job, is accountable to the public (or, more specifically his constituents, who pay his wages), is expected to be granted the utmost privacy in a public space? Did Natalie ever sign an employment agreement certifying confidentiality to all that set foot in her workplace?

I do agree that the internet has made for a decrease in privacy, and we still have yet to realize the full extent this may impact our lives. If anything, cases like that of Ellen Simonetti (a flight attendant fired after posting pictures of herself in her uniform, despite never mentioning her employer by name) are starting to remind us of the visibility of whatever we post alongside our names. It is doubtful Natalie meant to create an international scandal by virtue of her written rant-- but, by the power of Google, that's arguably what happened. 

I'm interested in your opinions on the topic. Do you think the firing was justified? Should she have known better? Have you ever had any negative consequences of your blog being unintentionally discovered? What do you do to keep your blog from causing any damage in your personal life? Any other thoughts?

36 comments:

Michael said...

This is very interesting. It's interesting that truth doesn't seem to be a defense here. If I just say I saw Sarah Jessica Parker naked, that's not very meaningful. If I can somehow prove it, now that's something else again. It seems to me there shouldn't be any liability for posting something truthful.

Personally, I have always managed to disguise, I think, the nature of my employment so that it is not clear what I do for a living. I, of course, name no one and only tell enough of the story to make the point I am trying to make.

I am not aware of anyone reading my blog from my employer.

Princess of the Universe said...

Oh hells yeah. That's the reason why I un-posted most of my archives.
My ex boss threatened legal action against me. And I never posted my name, the name of my former company etc etc.
I will never write about anything work-related again. And I now work on the assumption that EVERYone either is, or could read my blog.

Arielle said...

I think the issue is not so much the fact that the stories come out, because as you said, journalists get paid to do just that. But when someone is supposed to be representing an employer or organization or what have you is sort of when it gets sticky.

S'Mat said...

First thing I thought was 'Oh shit, did I just find out I was fired by reading another's blog?' and then remembered that I'm in-between-jobs right now, and so...

Good question though!
As blunt principle, I believe that it is everyone's responsibility to speak the truth, and that all lies have either an overt or covert cost.. or both eg. WMDs in Iraq.
But too, to moderate that, pragmatism should prevail: one principle should prevail over this, and that is the principle of self-preservation.. a truth-generating algorithm preserved is better than a single truth told and then burned, as many truths can be told at the sacrifice of the one...
but, to make this ridiculous comment even ridiculouser, does not the truth-not-told destabilize the integrity of the truth-generating algorithm?
blahblah.. question to a question..
also, for the sake of truth's veracity (here comes a partial paradox..) it's important to recognize truth's subjectivity. i try and tell the truth to the point of creating palpable rifts in the otherwise comfortable environment of lies (eg. a person's projection of themselves Vs. their actions). but that's almost a function of conceit, as who am i to say that i am viewing truth and confronting fraud? in fact, i readily become an asshole in the minds of others (who are obeying the superseding principle of self-preservation by viewing their identity as under attack, and so proclaim me the liar).
and it seems that that is what happened here.. the minister of defense didn't get to that position by accident, and would feel absolutely no compunction having that done before his morning coffee. in his mind he could readily justify it as in his country's best interests (meaning his own, but self-obfuscation is an art form at this level) by avoiding an unnecessary and expensive public inquest into his department's behaviour, and so on...
but to rid this excessive comment of it's excess bulk, i would say that yes, it is an obligation to propagate truth, and in fact, social progress depends upon it, and here's why: take the internet as a self-assembling neural network, flitting information in 3.5 dimensions... it is meta, it edits itself, but not in the old-school process of redaction (it was designed to resist that ie. be decentralized), but by a process of truth-recognition. to take ourselves as organelles, or synapses, or whatever component of this greater, emergent system, we all take our part seriously: in order to trust the internet, we largely commit and endorse self-regulatory activity onto it. the end-user would like to trust the internet, and so, will not conscientiously tell a lie on it (unless for specific gain - but that gain is weighted against a vast body of other users, who will root out the authenticity anything particularly suspicious). now getting fired for posting something that is TRUE is an effective means of breaking that system from the outside, unfortunately the best way of 'doing away' with the information node, as they're unlikely to risk it again. unfair, but effective. too bad, that once on the internet IT'S THERE and the best way to counter the counter-measures is to shout about them as well (just checked the story website, and yep, the situation is worse for him now than before).
ultimately, no good deed goes unpunished (with the caveat 'in the short-term')...
phew, sorry, but wow, all that without mentioning 9/11 even once!

Natasha said...

Just to play devil's advocate...

I think that it's important whether or not it was true that the minister was a) drunk and b) if the trip was being paid for by tax payers. While she is not a journalist, the internet is still a public forum and thoughts are being voiced publicly. Damaging someone's reputation because he appeared to be drunk and she thinks that the trip was being paid for by taxpayers is not an allegation to be made lightly.

As I do not know all the intimate details of the incident, this comment is merely just meant to be thought-provoking. I don't think that bloggers should be fired for something they do in their personal life, however, I think it's important to recognize that blogging is not a personal journal. What is put in a blog is public and perhaps a little forethought to what is being written might not such a bad thing.

sequined said...

I have mixed feelings about this. I think a company should be allowed to fire you if you post things damaging or potentially damaging to the company particularly if you're doing so somehow as a representative of that company (like posting its name or the nature of your work). But at the same time, posting facts like "at my work X guy came in and drank too much" doesn't seem damaging in any way to the company except that it might limit that bar's reputation as a place high-profile people can go to relax and have fun.

There are a lot of variables, I guess. In general, I think it's smartest to offer as few details as possible in a situation like that, and if necessary to obscure details to make it harder to track.

Meghan said...

It's a touchy subject matter with a lot of grey area. The obvious-mentioning company names, talking bad about work etc. could be considered libellous and therefore grounds for dismissal (or enough written in the nature that people could piece it together).

But the point of blogging is to give one's opinion and the freedom of speech that entitles us to. I would never blog about my work specifically but also don't feel I have to censor it. If that leads to dismissal, so be it.

Brooke Hughes said...

Wow, that was really interesting. I can't believed the blogger was fired. Thats scary, and its unfortunate for many of us who have to really be careful what we write in our blogs because we could so easily be fired. I work for the county and I dont write about the things I would like to, Im scared to death of someone at work finding out I blog.

LizSara said...

So here's my take on it. she has every right to say it, but she brought her company into disrepute by doing so and therefore they had every right to fire her.

Michelle said...

I think it's a shame that she was fired, but I think writing details about work is always going to be a little dangerous. Luckily, I don't work, so I don't have those kind of issues!

Jenn said...

I think it was a bit extreme to fire her. It seems like there is a double standard here...and that's not fair.

I'm pretty lucky when it comes to blogging. My boss and CEO know that I blog, but they also know that I don't write about my job or the company at all.

Kat from Tough Girl 101 said...

So everything she wrote was 100% true. I'm disgusted that they had her fired for being one of the few who told the truth. That's actually pretty heinous of them. I say she keep blogging! I'll read.

EF said...

This is indeed crazy- but...hard to say which way I go on the matter. My company asked employees to declare on our pages that we don't represent the views of our company for legal reasons- even if we don't ID who we work for. Facebook is another problem...

Matt said...

No I dont think employers should care about blogs.

I would hate to be fired over mine.

t.k.foster said...

I support the freedom of speech wholly - and bloggers are a part of that. I realize that many corporations would love to stand in line to monitor blogs so that they can continue doing dishonest business while monitoring what is written about them.

I have no doubt, however, that the leaders of the world will get security from blogging eventually by justifying it as a "threat" and many will give up their freedom.

Nilsa said...

What an interesting and relevant post, my dear. Thank you for writing it. A number of things strike me about this situation ...
1) Writing about your workplace is dangerous. It has been proven in the past (a la Dooce). The rest of us should know better.

2) There are no laws about writing observations of truths. However, one person's truth might be another person's fiction as it all lays in the eye of the beholder.

3) Why do we even care about this politician enough that this blogger felt the need to write about it? While I'm just as susceptible as many are to gossip, it's intrusive and is really quite unnecessary.

I don't know. I write as if everyone is reading it. I write with my name stamped on it. Mostly because it's a reminder to me that I can be discovered. I think there are a lot of anonymous bloggers who think they have carte blanche to write about whatever they want. They stand in a very precarious position.

Blogging has opened up an interesting new world. The only thing about it that I know for sure - take everything with a grain of salt.

So@24 said...

Oh God, I never even knew this was an issue.

I mean, I don't let any of my coworkers know of my blog just because I don't think it's professional and I don't want to have to worry about censoring myself.

I'm furiously chewing my finger nails now... how could someone lose their job over something innocent like a blog??

Crushed said...

Well, I've learned the hard way- be careful.
Because it isn't just you're own lives, it's the lives of those close to you that can get drawn in.

But we're still in uncharted territory.

Ultimately though, this is the Media of the People, and it should be fought for.

Paula said...

It's interesting to think that if she had merely been a customer in her place of work that night, there is really nothing that could have been done to her, since from the sound of it, she was only speaking the truth.

As for my own experience, most who read my blog know I got into trouble myself with my previous blog. But it wasn't with my work so much as with a few people from my job I had mentioned. I will still to this day stick by what i said and I checked with my HR department and they said I was in the clear (I don't mention where I work, or anyone's real name anyway and don't go into a massive amount of detail about work related stuff most of the time), but it wasn't nice to have the people in question pass around copies of my blog posts in order to try and turn others against me. I'm just relieved it didn't really work . . .

Who? Me? said...

I definitely don't think she should have been fired. That's freedom of speech. Perhaps the prime minister should not have been out in public doing things he would be embarrassed by.

I personally don't mention my school by name or my district by name. I also password protect posts that are about my job or mention people specifically.

Daisy said...

I'm kind of with Natasha on this one. I think people should be willing to accept responsibility for the things they write and blogging is not an open forum to slander (even if the slander is the truth.)

I know I would be bugged if someone's blog was saying things that could tarnish my reputation...

Katelin said...

i couldn't agree more with your points. that we, as bloggers, have to be limited to what we write whereas journalists and other writers get different rules.

then again, i don't think i'd ever really write anything about my job on here too much anyways. it's all so tricky.

Maxie said...

I wrote something like this on the 20sb forums but to elaborate...

Although I think it sucks that she was fired, I don't think it was unjustified.

If I was an employer I wouldn't want my restaurant/bar to be famous for a place where your dirty laundry might be aired on the internet by some blogger-- and I agree with the guy... it's hard to hold bloggers accountable. At least if it's a journalist you assume they have some way of backing it up.

It still sucks that he came to NY on the public's dime, but if I were the girl I wouldn't have named names.

Mega said...

And people sometimes wonder why I'm secretive and coy about my job.

If I blog openly complaining about my job, naming the company's name and what not, they have every. right. to fire me.

I can't believe that some people actually get hailed as a martyr (Dooce) for crap like this. I'm in a position to fire people. If someone blogs something personal about me that isn't true, and I happen to be their boss, I'm taking a real hard look at why I have a dishonest person in my dept.

JessWrites said...

It's a really scary thought that we have to be so sensitive about what we write on our blogs in order to not be affect unrelated parts of our lives.

My blog is public. Everyone I know knows about it. That was a decision I made in order to avoid having to be secretive. Although, because of it being so public, it severely limits what I allow myself to write about. And I hate having to sensor myself.

Z said...

This is really interesting, and I haven't had time to think about it so I can't formulate a good response or comment. But I will be thinking about it, to be sure...

Kat from Tough Girl 101 said...

http://katargonza.com/?p=192

Wrote up a response to this event! Thanks for pointing this out!

eric1313 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eric1313 said...

Nobody really cares about what I have to say--the average person around these parts is like, "poetry? yeah... sure..."

But I have had consequences. I've had the pleasure of a few people thinking my poems are bout them, and in both cases they were wrong, but you can't argue when someone has convinced themselves that your writing is about them.

Only one poetic recipient in my life (Jessica) has seen my work and knows the truth. And she dug what I had to say!

And frankly, that's good, since what I do is not bad, and I for one will never name names to any poem... ooops! I just did on the previous post! but really, just to on this blog. You do indeed encourage verity from myself...

Anyway, if people want to put on their Sherlock hats and sleuth me out, they are welcome, but again, I doubt it.

Bulletproof is my blog...

I think...

Lauren said...

I'm so torn about this whole situation. On one hand, there's the freedom of speech thing. You should be allowed to say what you want, write about what you want, state opinions however you please. And like you said, journalists can write what they want, but bloggers can't? How is that fair? On the other, what she wrote about is pretty important.

I balance my blog to avoid situations like that. I don't write about work or situations that may get me in trouble. I like to write what I want, but I also know I should draw the line.

S'Mat said...

I respectfully disagree with some of the comments here, and probably including my own amongst them...
Gossip is an integral role to social dynamics, if we didn't have it, how could we possibly... a)know what people think of other people/issues b)maintain our friendships/acquaintances without going batshit crazy in the effort... i believe though first person assessment is a responsibility, there's no way we do that...
the human is only a successful species because it stores knowledge in the environment, to be retrieved by others according to their societal standing... however, this hierarchical view of information sharing is being challenged by this interesting question.. if you support the orthodoxy by appointing safeguards of information, then effectively we have a priest class that can ingrain any moral/societal convention into the information to protect and ensure the propagation of the ruling elite.
i think many here are missing what a big deal this question is. we're debating the relativity of truth, not whether or not somebody has lied.

Mega - how could you ascertain that the employee was lying? by your position of power and that alone? granted, if they were lying, a reprimand should be in order, but why would you fire them? we're talking about somebody getting fired for telling the truth here, but being assailed for 'allegedly' telling a lie... don't get me wrong, as i believe that businesses should concern themselves with that portion of the political spectrum as involves them, but might don't make right mate!

Mrs4444 said...

I say that if you don't want people to know what you do, don't do it in public, because I will blog about it if you do. I do have to draw the line at work, though, since some stories I might tell could be connected to the "culprit." I have to be careful about that. My principal enjoys my blog, so I think I've done okay so far :) And no, I don't think she should have been fired for the blog post, but we don't know if they were close to firing her anyway.

Larissa said...

I'm not sure how I feel about this situation. I personally keep my blogging content to my own personal life, and try to steer clear from content about work or most friends and family (unless I've asked their permission). I'd rather not have my blogging lead to consequences like being fired or damaging a friendship.

Roshan said...

Why not blog anonymously?

eric1313 said...

You are so sweet! A blogtastic friend who I am very glad to know.

However, it must be wine or Jager or something... or maybe the shake-up from the collision... but I'll actually be a time zone closer.

Thing is I might actually have a serious job were I sleep at reasonable hours--like at least 200AM ;)

Sweet dreams to you as well.

Your Ill-fitting Overcoat said...

Congrats on make The Printed Blog with this post, PP! This is a great article-- well-written and well-researched, and you make valid points.

I'm torn on it, personally. While I certainly agree that she had the right to do what she did, I also think the PM had the right to call and complain (as another commenter pointed out, journalists are expected to fact check before printing a potentially-libelous story, but are bloggers held to the same standards?), and I also think her employer had the right to fire her.

While the PM was certainly in a public space and could have been witnessed by any number of journalists or paparazzi, the fact that is that he wasn't. He was witnessed by an employee of the bar, moonlighting as a blogger-- someone who stood to gain by her "inside scoop".

More power to her for sharing what she saw-- and for the publicity that likely came with her story-- but allowing her to stay on at the bar would send a message to other high-status patrons: "Don't come here or anything you do may be all over the internet the next day."

And, for the record, the PM's right. We ARE all at risk. We've all written stories about other people, haven't we? If we're conscientious, we change their names, obscure details about them, and avoid posting anything too damning. But some people don't. And someone you know could post something unflattering about you... and what could you really do about it?