JEEVAN* was frustrated about work. The software engineer had to take on duties that he had no idea how to handle, which meant learning things from scratch and enduring “a lot of boring research”.
Naturally, he took a lot of “research breaks” during work to elevate boredom – and that meant writing on his blog (short for weblog).
And as his job became increasingly frustrating, Jeevan began talking more about work on his online journal.
“Besides my three colleagues (we were a tiny start-up) who were all in the same boat as me, I couldn’t really complain to anyone else – so I blogged my frustrations. This was based on my impression that my bosses did not know my blog, and didn’t even know I had a blog,” he said.
BEWARE: Your boss might read your blog.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t quite realise how increasingly popular my blog was becoming.”
Jeevan started blogging in March 2004, and wrote what he called “typical navel-gazing stuff mixed with some anecdotes and observations.”
Unbeknownst to him, some of these ended up being circulated via e-mail and ended up reaching the company receptionist. “From there, it was a simple matter of putting two and two together, and since I blog under my real name, she quickly figured out my blog,” he said.
Because she liked his posts, she passed them on to his boss, who subsequently found his blog via Google. “He read through each and every one of my blog posts, and came across all those posts that were critical of what was going on,” he said.
Jeevan was called in to his boss’ office for a “talk”. “To be fair, he wasn’t harsh on me or anything, and I never actually mentioned my company’s name or specific details of what we did on my blog,” he said.
Jeevan’s boss told him that it would be better to remove all the critical posts about work. “I wasn’t going to go to war for a blog, so I complied, deleted those posts. I didn’t even keep a backup,” he said.
He then informed his readers about what he did and hinted that he almost got “dooced”.
“And that’s that. My boss has continued, and still continues, to read my blog, and we maintain a civil relationship despite me moving to another company later,” he said.
Needless to say, Jeevan doesn’t blog about work anymore.
“In fact, I’m a lot more discreet regarding many aspects of my personal life. I tend not to refer to friends by name. Usually a nickname or initials would suffice, unless they’re bloggers themselves and want to be identified with a link. I certainly do not blog about family, and I’ve never posted pictures of myself or close friends or family online. I also now password-protect entries that I want only certain people such as close friends to read,” he said.
Don’t get dooced
The term “dooced” is Internet-speak for “getting fired over something you’ve written in your blog”. And as blogging becomes an increasingly popular hobby (according to blog search engine Technorati, a new blog is created every second), so has the number of bloggers fired because of their blogs. Just take a look at this list: morphemetales.blogspot.com/2004/12/statistics-on-fired-bloggers.html.
The term “dooced” originated from the case of Heather Armstrong, who once worked in Los Angeles as a web designer ... until her bosses discovered her blog, Dooce (www.dooce.com).
Besides reflecting on her life as a “recovering Mormon”, Armstrong also wrote scathing anecdotes about her workmates. Calling her boss “Her Heniousness” didn’t earn her popularity points and she once even wrote about “the proper way to hate your job”.
Her superiors were not amused and showed her the door.
Now, she has sage advice for those who blog about work: “My advice to you is BE YE NOT SO STUPID. Never write about work on the Internet unless your boss knows and sanctions the fact that YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET.”
However, it’s not all bad. Armstrong’s blog is now so popular that she supports her family via the advertisements on it. (In fact, some fired bloggers actually found fame and even clinch a publishing deal thanks to their sudden unemployment! See sidebar.)
Said blogger Michael Ooi, who blogs from www.michaelooi.net: “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as ‘blogging safely’ when you’ve treaded into the realms of blogging about work which, I believe the majority of working bloggers do.”
It is not unusual for bloggers to blog about work because they spend most of their time at the workplace, he said.
“So, the whole thing pretty much depends on how one’s able to avert their blogs from being discovered by the boss,” he said.
However, one is still taking a risk when doing that.
“When an employer wants to nitpick any person who blogs about work, he/she will be able to somehow find a good reason to do it. It can be a seemingly innocent clause in one of your blog entries, or simply the whole idea about blogging about work. I’ve seen it happened to a few people I know,” he said.
Salmah*, a friend of Ooi’s, was fired because of her blog.
One day, the executive wrote about a senior employer, pointing out her poor skills in management and how she felt about her poor attitude.
“My friend made a big mistake by stating that manager’s first name, along with the company’s name. One day, that manager found out about the entry when she randomly searched for her name and the company in a search engine ... and stumbled on the particular blog entry,” he said.
Although Salmah blogged under a pseudonym, she made one mistake: she posted a photograph of herself ... which the manager found. It nailed her identity immediately.
Salmah was queried the very next day and later asked to resign from the company.
“For myself, I do keep myself ‘disciplined’ to conform to a set of crude ‘guidelines’ to stay as far out of the boiling water aspossible,” he said.
Ooi blogs anonymously, does not reveal his company’s name nor does he reveal the names of those he blogs about. (He usually gives them pseudonyms.) No pictures of himself on the blog, of course. And if he talks about an event or incident, he does not reveal the location or time of the event.
“And be nice to everyone at work, fake it if necessary. If you’re nice, people will have less tendency to be hostile to you,” he said.
Anonymity no protection?
However, blogging anonymously may not be enough anymore, as blogger Catherine Sanderson found out the hard way.
Sanderson, a British expatriate working in France, found herself out of a job when her boss discovered her blog, Petite Aglaise (www.petiteanglaise.com). In a series of unfortunate accidents, her blog was discovered when he used her computer after she forgot to switch it off.
Although she wrote mostly about her love life and her life as a single mother, she did occasionally write amusing stories about her workplace. That, however, was enough for Catherine’s boss to dismiss her on the grounds of “gross misconduct”. She is now taking legal action against her former employers.
Accidents such as Sanderson’s could happen as Internet browsers retain memory of the sites you’ve visited. All it takes is for someone – a boss or a colleague – to click on the right link.
Jeevan, however, doesn’t have any qualms about blogging at work.
“To me, it’s no different than gathering at the water cooler and yakking away. It just so happens that my water cooler is my blog, and the people I’m yakking away to are my readers,” he said.
However, he’s aware that bosses may see it differently; therefore he strives not to minimise blogging at work.
Leow Yong May decided from the beginning that she will not write about work in her blog. (She prefers that her blog URL not be mentioned.)
“This was because I know the danger of blogging about work or of typing an entry during work,” said Leow.
Leow felt fortunate that she came across articles about how some bloggers were fired or warned by their employers before starting work.
“The employees got fired or were warned by their employers because their blog entries spread rumours about the company, backstabbed colleagues, other private and confidential matters relating to the company.
“So, I told myself (and regularly remind myself) not to blog about matters regarding work because that would just create trouble.
“My blog just includes entries on how I feel about life, the people in the world, my observations, my opinions on issues, and a therapeutic tool for me after a stressful day at work,” she said.
It could get you hired, too
But here’s another thing: your blog could get you hired, too.
Popular Malaysian blogger, Kenny Sia (www.kennysia.com), is one such case. One of Malaysia’s popular bloggers, Sia receives about 100 over comments each post – readers love his humorous take on Malaysian life. And, apparently, so did the people at Klue magazine.
Now, Sia writes Blog Roll, a column that highlights interesting Malaysian blogs.
And he says that he’s not alone. He knows a few Malaysian bloggers who were offered jobs thanks to their blogs.
“I also know two people who were looking for bloggers to hire,” he said. Many of the employers come from the communications and writing industry, he said.
“You share your talent in your blog: your flair for writing, photography, singing, etc. These are the things that shows on your website,” he said.
It also makes economic sense for employers to peruse blogs for potential employees. “They can just go straight to the blog rather than publish an ad in the newspaper or have human resource managers to look through applications,” he said.
Hired or fired? In the end, it’s how and what you write about in your blog that determines that.
* Names have been changed to protect identity.
The Star is not responsible for the contents of the blogs mentioned in this article.