RealTime IT News

Blogging Without Getting Burned

Safe blogging is anonymous blogging, the Electronic Frontier Foundation advised on Friday.

"Anyone can eventually find your blog if your real identity is tied to it in some way," the non-profit advocate for consumer privacy and free speech employing new media warned in How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else). The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) published the guide to help citizens avoid retaliation from friends, family and -- especially -- employers.

Blogging has become mainstream, with Google , Yahoo , MSN and Ask Jeeves offering free tools and hosting. Microsoft reported recently that there are 4.5 million blogs on MSN Spaces alone.

A January 2005 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 3 percent of the 279 HR professionals surveyed had disciplined an employee for blogging, but none had fired anyone. By contrast, in the same survey, 4 percent had fired an employee for downloading music or videos, 1 percent for non-work-related instant messaging, 20 percent for non-work-related Internet use, and 5 percent for sending personal e-mails.

The guide follows several instances in which employees were fired for personal blogging activity, as well as Apple Computer's attempts to get bloggers to reveal the sources of leaks about upcoming products.

The EFF advised bloggers worried about retaliation to use a pseudonym as well as use hosts that don't require bloggers' real names. To make sure their IP addresses can't be traced, the EFF suggests bloggers post using technology or services that route communications anonymously.

The EFF cautioned that while U.S. citizens have a right to free speech, the First Amendment doesn't shield them from the consequences of what they say -- unless it's within certain categories of protected speech, such as political speech and whistle-blowing.

But there's another, although less certain, means of staying out of trouble, said Shel Israel, an independent consultant on corporate messaging and co-author of an upcoming book with the working title of Blog or Die. Israel coordinated his book with Robert Scoble, a Microsoft marketing executive known as the "Microsoft geek blogger."

"We followed about 30 of the 'fired for blogging' cases and saw not one where people got fired for blogging, but rather for doing the kinds of things you get fired for anywhere," Israel said. No-nos included making fun of the boss, talking trash about the company and disclosing information about stock options.

While some legal experts talk about the complexities of blogging, Israel maintained, "There's no complexities at all. You don't give away any company secrets." He added that standard employment agreements usually include boilerplate about employee behavior that should be seen to include blogging, even if that activity is done off the clock.

Israel said that the buttoned-up Microsoft is an excellent example of how to handle employee blogging. There is no official policy at all, he said; instead, Microsoft engineers use common sense. Several of Microsoft's 1,500 or so bloggers told him, "Ballmer says, 'Get closer to the customer.' That's what I'm doing."

Israel's guide to safe blogging for employees is a lot shorter than the EFF's: "Don't do anything stupid on the blog."