Bloggers Beware. This Isn't Your Diary or Water Cooler Conversation.

Blogs and Bloggers in the news again. This time Jennifer Balderama writing in the Washington Post discusses the delicate issue of free speech as it relates to publishing rants, raves, musings and just about anything else in your personal blog. When describing “What is a Blog”, many refer to it as a journal or diary. And for the most part, this is true. So when does what you write in your diary become subject to the same laws and professional decorum of “professional” journalists?

[…] many people publish as if they were untouchable, assuming that because what they write appears in a virtual world, it won't come back to burn them in the “real” world. Many overlook the fact that their rants can potentially reach millions of people when posted on the Internet […]

If you've spent anytime reading the thousands of personal blogs (these have been updated recently) you'll find for the most part they are harmless. Some are interesting. Others will bore the hell out of you. But sometimes on the surface and other times buried in the archives many of these blogs contain candid, off-the-cuff or simply brutally honest (and unfortunately sometimes disparaging) remarks.

[…] late last year, John Stanforth posted to his personal Web site a reminiscence about software he had developed for internal use by a former employer. It was a minor project, he said, one he never thought would warrant any secrecy.

So he was bewildered when, about two months later, he received a cease-and-desist letter in an e-mail from his old company. It said that by mentioning the project, he had violated the nondisclosure agreement he signed when he joined the firm in June 1997 […]

Let's say after work you go out for cocktails with friends and inevitably the conversation turns to work. Perhaps complaints fly around the table about human resources. Others may complain about company policy. Problems with marketing. And the updated price list and new products. Still others may gossip about the hot new guy or girl in accounting. Fairly common. Normal. And for the most part private and personal expression. Some may write these things in an analog journal. But the minute these things appear in a blog, the rules likely change.

[…] the same law that relates to publishing in the offline world, generally speaking, applies to material posted publicly on a Web log, legal and human resources experts said. Posting information or opinions on the Internet is not much different from publishing in a newspaper, and if the information is defamatory, compromises trade secrets, or violates copyright or trademark regulations, the publisher could face legal claims and monetary damages […]

A few weeks ago my musician mentor and ex-creative director Jim Young pointed to a blog he found to be creative and interesting. As I dug through Dooce, I learned that the author of this blog was fired as a result of writings regarding her workplace she posted to her blog. Perhaps most alarming in this case is the fact that her blog is “anonymous”. Unlike mine, Rebecca's, Ken's, John's or most of the bloggers in my blogroll, you'd be hard pressed to uncover the identity in Dooce's blog. The company name wasn't mentioned. And no names were used. Yet she was fired. Perhaps a labor attorney would have a field day here, Dooce decided watch the water under the bridge. She obviously wasn't happy there anyway.

I'm not sure that bloggers understand or are aware of potential consequence if they step too far over the line. Many may not even know the line exists. And many hide behind the very thin veil a weblog may appear to offer.

[…] “The Internet creates a veil of separation between you and other people,” said Gregory Alan Rutchik, managing partner at the Arts and Technology Group, a San Francisco firm specializing in copyright and publishing law. “Don't be misled by the fact that you're sitting in a room, behind a locked door, at your computer. There's ways to find out who you are.” […]

Yet common sense dictates that while our constitution provides us certain protection of free speech, it's important to understand that blogs are publications. That means public. And that means watch what you write.

[…] Authors generally are obligated to publish as facts only what they believe to be true. But stating opinions can be tricky, especially when those views relate to workplace issues, said Bret Fausett, a Los Angeles-based lawyer […]