When I started an online journal two years ago, I did so to rant to more than one person at a time. I loved how the keys felt under my flying fingers after an especially rotten day, and I welcomed the encouraging comments my friends would leave at the bottom of my entry. It was the perfect release for frustration, a way to garner sympathy from everyone on my “Friends” list. Sure, I thought it may end up on strangers’ screens, but overall, I didn’t hold back.
Now almost everyone and his monkey has a LiveJournal or a Xanga. Click on their friends’ pages and you can instantly read about scores of other people, people you likely don’t know. It makes you wonder who might be reading yours…
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a survey released at the beginning of the year, an estimated 27 percent of online adults in the United States read blogs and 7 percent write them. There are over two million active LiveJournal accounts, according to the site, with 441 posts per minute. But the same report concluded 62 percent still don’t know what a blog is. However, with the trend growing in popularity and getting news coverage everywhere you look, it won’t be much longer until your grandma knows exactly what you did on Saturday night…and with whom. And your boss may know about it, too.
Take Mark Jen, for example. On his first day working at the Internet search engine, Google, he made some comments on his blog regarding his work atmosphere. After 11 days, and even the erasure of said material, Jen was terminated.
“I guess I just figured that’s how it would work for this new blog; it could serve as a place for me to put up my stories about working at Google so my friends could all read it and I wouldn’t have to repeat the same thing 20 times a day,” he wrote on Jan. 26, two days before he was fired from the company for posting unflattering descriptions of co-workers and his work environment. (Read more of Jen’s blog here.)
Since then, critics have been firing shots at both Jen and Google. Whether you think it was fair for Jen to be fired doesn’t matter – the fact is, he was.
When asked if student employment could be adversely affected by blogging, Gale Gower, assistant director of student employment, said, “I haven’t thought of it.”
Although there aren’t specific “no blogging policies” for student employees, Gower said any defamation of character of a fellow employee or employer would be grounds for termination.
“Certainly we would rather students discuss problems with supervisors, or come to our office,” she said. She warned such comments could be “read by everyone on campus,” and the only way to truly be safe is to be discreet.
So, if you did get fired for your blogging, is that even legal? American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) spokeswoman Wendy Wagenheim says no – unless you do it on the job. “Employees can monitor what you do on your work computer,” she said.
But after you clock out, the First Amendment kicks in. “There are protections on what you can say outside of the workplace,” she said. She also said employees do have a right to comment off the job about work-related activities, but noted, “Employers also have a right to fire you for your behavior [outside of the workplace].”
[bloggers1] For instance, a Delta Airlines flight attendant was canned after bosses discovered her blog, showcasing what the airline deemed “inappropriate” pictures of the employee in her uniform.
Gower suggested students be familiar with their rights at work to better protect themselves. A guide titled “Got Rights at Work?” can be downloaded from the ACLU of Michigan Web site.
She said no complaints regarding blogging have been filed with her office, but said this kind of case is one “we would be very interested to know about.”
So how can you stay off the unemployment line? First, know who your audience is. Most online journal services have the option for users to post to “friends only,” allowing only those of the user’s choosing to view the post. LiveJournal goes as far as allowing users to limit posts to specific individuals, excluding even friends and friends of friends, for utmost security. But no matter how careful you are, there is always the possibility of an unwanted reader. Friends-only lists aren’t always exclusive and tight-knit. If someone asks to be your friend, you usually let them, right? That person could be a fellow employee, someone close to the boss or someone who wants your job; a tattle-tale is just a mouse click away.
Also, talk to your supervisor about policies regarding disclosure of information. Refrain from making negative references to fellow employees or your employers. Defamation and public utterances (false, inflammatory statements) are harder to fight with the First Amendment.
Or be more like education junior Jana Lobello. She doesn’t write in her blog very much, and when she does, she monitors what she writes; she doesn’t have to worry about the negative implications blogging can bring. “I haven’t even thought about it,” she said.
For the rest of us who blog without mercy, think of it as you do sex: Know who you’re doing it with, keep yourself protected and make sure you’re ready for the consequences. And as a rule of thumb, never, ever do it when you know the boss is watching.

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