Firms Taking Action Against Worker Blogs

Annalee Newitz, a policy analyst at the civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said employees often “don’t realize the First Amendment doesn’t protect their job.”

The First Amendment only restricts government control of speech. So private employers are free to fire at will in most states, as long as it’s not discriminatory or in retaliation for whistle-blowing or union organizing, labor experts say.

A few companies actually do encourage personal, unofficial blogs and have policies defining do’s and don’ts for employees who post online. They recognize that there can be value in engaging customers through thoughtful blogs.

“There’s always a risk, but you always have that risk anytime you put an employee on the phone,” Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said. —Anick JesdanunFirms Taking Action Against Worker Blogs (AP/My Way)

The telephone quotation puts the issue into the proper context, but that headline is a bit alarmist. Bosses and other authorities can clamp down on disrespect without silencing dissent.

At SHU, most students treat their academic weblogs as just another kind of homework, but others blog far beyond what the syllabus requires, even when classes are not in session. They do so for the same widely varying reasons that people blog everywhere else.

It’s Spring Break now, and Lou asks for encouragement as he hunkers down to write a romance, Moira marvels that she’s spending her break chortling through a required book on punctuation and grammar, Amanda and Karissa take the time to warn their readers that they’ll be away from a computer during most of the break. I can also tell from the server logs when a particular URL is being passed around via e-mail and IM.

For some students, the blogs mean something more than just the place where Jerz wants them to post homework. After the server that hosts our blogs was attacked a few weeks ago, and I had to take the blogs down for a while, student Mike Rubio wrote in a column in the school paper, “these recent attacks have caused most of us (or at least the few of us who adore the art of blogging) to realize how much we miss them now that they are gone. | I am hoping that Jerz will nominate a head of Blog-land Security to oversee the protection of our Moveable Type-fueled freedom.” In fact, some students get so attached to their SHU blogs that they resent blogging homework, and struggle to find an aesthetically pleasing way to integrate their academic voice with their personal one. (I’ve posted about the forced blogging paradigm before.)

There are already laws about copyright infringement, libel, defamation of character, and so forth. There’s nothing that’s illegal to do in blogs but legal in other media, or vice versa. A student who disrupts a class meeting or says something hateful in the cafeteria has committed an act that exists at one point in time. An employee who posts offensive signs around campus has put them in one particular place, from which they can be removed should they be deemed inappropriate. In such cases, the harm is easily confined. But a blog that contains inappropriate content continues to communicate it to each new web visitor.