Listen up, kids. The word of the day is “dooced.” (No, not “douched.” That’s something else entirely.)
“Dooced” is when somebody gets fired for what they write online. It’s named for Heather B. Armstrong, the first person to get fired for blogging in 2002. The company she worked for whipped out the pink slip after objecting to less than flattering opinions she shared on her site, Dooce.com.
Heather didn’t challenge her termination, but did have some pertinent advice for fellow bloggers:
“BE YE NOT SO STUPID.”
Many never listened. In fact, there is a litany of stories online about people fired for opinionating online.
Top names include former airline stewardess Ellen Simonetti, fired by Delta Airlines for posting racy pictures of herself in uniform.
Then there’s clothing store employee Erica Palan, who had her misadventures working at a plus-sized lingerie/baby clothing store published by a blogger from the Philadelphia Weekly. (Sadly, they never revealed who came up with the idea of selling plus-sized lingerie and baby clothes together in the first place.)
Then there’s Joyce Park, who worked for Friendster until blogging about their switch from one data system to another. Her firing was not a popular move. Supportive bloggers cancelled their Friendster accounts, which facilitated the death of that particular social network.
Just Google “fired for blogging” to find dozens, if not hundreds, of similar stories.
What used to be newsworthy—Simonetti captured more than a few headline inches back in her day—is now just a routine headache for Human Resources managers.
Given the sheer proliferation of blogging—estimates suggest a new one is set up every 5.8 seconds—it should come as no surprise that getting “dooced” is becoming a common occurrence. But is it right for companies to can their workers for what they write online? And, more importantly, is it legal?
The Right to Bear Blogs
America is a nation founded on the notion of freedom of expression. It’s a common perception that “everybody is entitled to their opinion,” which leads many bloggers to feel safe expressing those opinions online—but that sense of security is based on a false premise.
Yes, the right to freedom of speech is cemented in the United States Constitution—but that’s only a protection from being prosecuted or persecuted by the Federal Government. The First Amendment doesn’t give you any protection against private businesses…especially when they sign your paycheck.
Just look at veteran shock-jock Don Imus. When he joked that the Rutgers women’s basketball team were “nappy-headed hos,” his employer, CBS, argued that the racist slur had cost them listeners and advertising revenue, and threw him off the air.
When brash bloggers decide to complain about coworkers or bosses on their personal blogs, companies often use the same excuse to justify “doocing” them. The employees might not be sharing anything sensitive—but revealing backstage bickering makes the company look bad.
Bloggers who make off-color remarks about people’s race or sexuality find themselves under similarly piercing scrutiny. They might not have done anything to directly hurt their employer, but organizations don’t want to be linked to those who fail to uphold “company values.”
And those values can cause headaches.
Cancer survivor Amanda Donaldson was fired from her job at a chiropractic center after her employer read her cancer survivor blog and discovered that she was an atheist. As a “Christian” employer, that allegedly justified terminating her because he wanted people working there who shared the same “world view” as he did.
Likewise, ethics professor Jeffrey Nielsen’s teaching contract wasn’t renewed by Brigham Young University after he wrote about his support of same-sex marriage—an opinion deemed highly controversial by the university’s Mormon administration.
Many companies hire people these days with an “at will” clause in their contract, giving them the power to terminate employment without having to give a justifiable reason. This gives employees very few options to object to getting laid off—even if they believe it’s for an arbitrary reason, like blogging about something that doesn’t fit into a conservative employer’s limited worldview.
SexIs’ own Kendra Holliday experienced that when a Twitter mishap allowed her employer to find the site she ran under the moniker The Beautiful Kind.
“When it comes to private matters, our employees must keep their affairs private," they wrote when terminating her. It was this “outing” that eventually led to Kendra to go public with her website—which has led to further repercussions.
No longer anonymous sex bloggers who’ve been rudely “outed” face similarly serious consequences—losing jobs, spouses or even custody of their children. Few people imagine just what a personal liability your personal musings can be—until they’re on the wrong end of them.
Because anonymous blogging gives people the freedom to divulge so much more than they’d be willing to do publically, the impact when those private writings do become public is that much more devastating.
That’s why many bloggers are coming to realize that a public blog—one that’s openly linked to their face and name—is something of a liability.
Ultimately, if someone wants their secrets, their sex life and their identity to remain private, the solution is simple: Don’t blog in the first place.
Next time… the double-edged sword of online anonymity continues to cut both ways…