2005-01-12

Money: Legal Implications of Blog Doocing

Article 1 An employee of the book chain 'Waterstone's' has become the first person in Britain to lose his job after using an on-line diary to 'let off steam' about his working life. 'Blogging' -- an increasingly popular Internet pursuit -- allows people to set up their own Website to discuss a range of subjects, sometimes personal, which other users can log on to. Mr.Joe Gordon lost his 12_000_GBP/year job as a 'senior bookseller' with 'Waterstone's' in Edinburgh for bringing the company into disrepute after his Blog made satirical remarks about his working life. He had been employed at the Princes Street East End branch for 11 years, but incurred the wrath of his employers after referring to the company as 'Bastardstone's' and one of his managers as 'Evil Boss'. According to the Trade Union Congress (TUC), this is the first case of its kind in Britain, but in the USA in 2004-11, an airline attendant calling herself 'Queen of the Sky' was fired over 'inappropriate images' on her anonymous Blog. Mr.Gordon, 37, said the firm had overreacted to a Website he was operating outside company hours and his dismissal had worrying implications for freedom of speech. He said:
'It is ironic that I have written stories on my Website for years on subjects such as Iraq, yet I get sacked over writing about my own job. 'Blogging allows you to "vent steam" about a bad day at work in a healthy way rather than doing it at work. 'There was no direct reference to anyone in the company and it took place outside working hours. 'Surely the best way forward would have been for one of my bosses to have had a quiet word that some of the content might reflect badly on "Waterstone's" and I would have been happy to stop it'. He went on: 'Does this mean that if someone moans about their work in the pub one evening, they can be sacked? It is rather "Orwellian" and has implications for freedom of expression that a bookstore like "Waterstone's" should be uncomfortable with'.
Mr.Gordon has been running his on-line satirical newsletter, 'Woolamaloo Gazette', since 1992. He was dismissed last week after a disciplinary hearing. A spokesman for 'Waterstone's' said:
'It is still an on-going disciplinary procedure and the employee still has two rights of appeal. We cannot comment at this stage'.
Hannah Reed, a TUC senior employment rights officer, said:
'I am not aware of any cases of its kind in Britain, although it has happened in the USA. 'The law is complicated, but our "rule of thumb" would be that what an individual does in their private life is up to them as long as it does not impact on their ability to do their job properly. 'Because these remarks were not made in a pub but were actually published on a Website, it does make it harder for the individual to win an "unfair dismissal" case, but people do have a right to freedom of expression. 'This scenario has not been tested in the courts before. 'If employers take a sensible approach, then their staff will feel happier rather than being snooped on. 'This could be the first of several similar such cases in this country and is a situation we will be closely monitoring'.
How Blogging can get you dooced THE term 'Blog', which entered 'The Oxford English Dictionary' last year 2004, is a shortened form of 'Web log'. A Blog is a document containing personal comments and observations, often in the form of a journal, that is posted on the Internet. Little technical skill is required to do this. Blogs typically reflect the personality of their owner and can include a mixture of diary, bookmark list, and interactivity. It is this personal touch that make them popular sites to visit. But using a Blog as an outlet to moan about work clearly has its pitfalls. A new term has emerged as a result. According to UrbanDictionary.com to be 'dooced' means to lose your job over something written on a Website or on-line Blog. 'Bookshop worker first to be sacked over Internet "Blog"', Edward Black, The Scotsman, 2005-01-12, We. [back to beginning of this Blog entry] Article 2 New kids on the Blog (2005-01-14)
'I had a sprout surprise smoothie today. It sounds horrible, but the apple, mint leaves and carrot make sure it really is horrible. I threw most of it away and got a coffee from the vending machine. I know, I know, it's a slippery slope. Next I'll be on bread and before long I'll be puffing away on a crack pipe'.
Another New-Year-new-diet bites the dust. Why should we care, you might wonder, about whether an anonymous call centre worker finishes his/her sprout smoothie? But we do. Because this is 'Wrapstar', whose Blog (or 'Weblog', a Web-based journal) 'Call Centre Confidential' is among the best-known in the country. Fans might also like to know that 'the best boss in the world' got a gun for Christmas which allows him to fire balls of foam at the workers. For the un-Blog-initiated, this might sound as if it's just been beamed in from Mars. But increasing numbers of us are reading and writing Blogs. A scout around reveals that a policeman, a teacher and an IT worker for a health trust are among those spilling the beans on their professional lives. A Blog could reach only one other person. Or it could reach the whole world. Perhaps more importantly, it could reach your boss.
This week, Mr.Joe Gordon, who has been Blogging for 12 years, was sacked by a 'Waterstone's' bookstore in Edinburgh for alluding to the company in his on-line ramblings. His use of terms such as 'Bastardstone's' and his caricature of an 'Evil Boss' is said to have made him the first person in the UK to be sacked for writing a Blog -- and has prompted a furious debate in the Blogging community about 'free speech'.
Cases like his lift the lid on a world which has been quietly growing, hidden to the non-Bloggers among us. According to research in the USA, readership of Blogs increased by 58 per cent last year, with 32_million people saying they read Blogs, and 7 per cent of adults in the USA -- some 8_million people -- having written them. It could be poised to grow in this country even more quickly. Software developer 'Six Apart' has predicted that by 2009, the UK will have overtaken the USA, with more Bloggers 'per capita' than any other country in the world. A Blog can be written by anyone, a depressed teenage 'goth' who works in 'Mcdonald's', or a mum earnestly chronicling her struggle with her son's 'Asperger's syndrome'. Mr.Boris Johnson talked about his dismissal from the Tory front benches in his Blog. North London prostitute 'Belle de Jour' used hers to create a media frenzy and secure a publishing deal. 'Hansard' is encouraging MPs to start their own Blogs. Increasingly, the influential are realising that Blogs are not just for teenage whinges over pop groups and failed seductions. Blogs matter. 'The Baghdad Blogger' Mr.Salam Pax gave a powerful account of the invasion of Iraq which rivalled the writings of most journalists. Glenn Harland Reynolds of 'The University of Tennessee' 'College of Law' claims that the Iraq war was the first major conflict in which the Internet crossed the lines of battle and affected the course of events by delivering news, unfiltered, from all sides. The US American election in 2004-11 was the first in which Bloggers played a key role. Circulating the results of 'exit polls' -- many of them predicting a victory for Mr.Kerry -- affected public perception of the race and even influenced the stock market. In the aftermath of the recent 'tsunami', Blogs were among the first to publish accounts and images. Survivors used them to exchange their stories and help to unite lost family members. Not all Bloggers, though, are tracking world events. Deep at the heart of the Blog is a desire to be heard, to find in the vastness of the world a platform for your own voice. Some commentators theorise that workplace Blogs originate in the culture of overwork: we spend more and more time at work, but feel less and less secure, prompting the desire to turn the job into a sitcom for the enjoyment of others with oneself in the leading role. Most Bloggers describe their motivations as mixed. Mr.Joe Gordon said this week:
'Blogging allows you to "vent steam" about a bad day at work in a healthy way rather than doing it at work', but pointed out that his work was a comparatively small part of his Blog.
'Dr.Dre', who describes himself as 'an IT worker in 'Anytown NHS Trust'', says he set out simply to make people laugh. But he also says that his Blog is, in part, a rebellion against the idiocy occasionally manifested in the health service.
'Why spend thousands of pounds getting a new logo when there are wards where eight nurses have to share one PC, which is locked in the sister's office?'
The anonymous teacher behind 'The Report Card' writes:
'I am not dissatisfied with my job, as a matter of fact I love it, but there are certain things that drive me crazy and make my job more difficult, which is what you'll find here'.
Ms.Elaine Duncan, a chartered psychologist and lecturer at 'Glasgow Caledonian University' who has studied diary writing and is about to investigate Blogging, says Blogs are unlike any other form of diary:
'In the survey we did about diary writing, the diary was always kept for private consumption, to record one's life, things that upset you, things that delight you. The traditional view of a diary is that it is a private matter, often kept locked, sometimes even written in code. 'But perhaps the motivations are similar. I asked people in my survey why they were making entries in their diary; they said they used it as a memory aid, or were looking for inspiration or ideas, but most important was writing to sort out something they were upset about'.
Mr.Alistair Shrimpton, UK manager for 'Six Apart', has said that Britons are ripe for Blogging because of our inherent nosiness.
'Blogging is essentially a voyeuristic or exhibitionist activity. Britons traditionally love both, as demonstrated by our voyeuristic media being the strongest in the world'.
We enjoy reading Blogs for the same reason we watch 'reality TV' -- we want to see a slice of other people's lives, especially when those people are not so different from ourselves. 'Dr.Dre's' 'Anytown NHS Trust' is indicative: a good Blogger is both full of personality, and an everyman. Many people believe Blogs are shaking off their overtones of geekiness and beginning to change the way we give and receive information. US American columnist Mr.Dan Gillmor, author of 'We, The Media', argues that the Blog is ushering in a new kind of populist journalism:
'More voices are better than fewer in terms of addressing big issues'.
Certainly, Blogs are acting as unofficial fact-checkers and monitors to larger media organisations. When, in 2004-10, CBS TV news anchorman Mr.Dan Rather broke a story about what US American President George Bush Jr did during his time in 'The National Guard', Bloggers got to work and swiftly proved that a fax backing up the story was forged. Where Blogs have boldly gone, the law is struggling to keep up. Mr.Gordon is appealing against the decision to fire him, asking:
'Does this mean that if someone moans about their work in the pub one evening, they can be sacked? It is rather "Orwellian" and has implications for freedom of speech'.
Other Bloggers are keeping close tabs on the case. 'Dr.Dre' has said the thought that their employers might be watching is the one thing that 'keeps Bloggers awake at night'. Ellen Simonetti.jpg 'Delta Airlines'' hostess Ms.Ellen Simonetti was among the first in the world to be fired because of a Blog. Writing anonymously as 'Queen of the Sky', about 'Anonymous Airline', her Blog went undisturbed until she posted photographs of herself taken inside a plane in her 'Delta' uniform. Jessica Cutler Another Blog victim was Ms.Jessica Cutler, a 24-year-old secretary at a senator's office who, as 'Washingtonienne', wrote about selling sex to officials and was outed on the net and sacked. (Although she has signed a book deal and signed with 'Playboy'). Bloggers argue that what they do in their private life should not trouble their employers. Companies fear their names and logos being brought into disrepute in what is essentially a published medium, and are signing up to Blog-monitor services such as 'Blogsquirrel'. Experts recommend that employers should update Internet policies to cover Blogs, whether they are written at work or at home. Meanwhile, Bloggers are signing up to an on-line 'International Bloggers' Bill of Rights':
'We, the inhabitants of the Blogosphere, do hereby proclaim that Bloggers everywhere are entitled to the following basic rights..'.
They ask companies to establish clear-cut Blogging policies, give warnings to staff and conclude that:
'No-one shall be fired because of his/her Blog, unless the employer can prove that the Blogger did intentional damage to said employer through the Blog'.
Above all, they defend their 'right to Blog', determining that, in the future, we will all have plenty to Blog about. The best of the Blogs 1 www.Bloggerheads.com Shortlisted for 'The Guardian's' best political Blog award, on this site Mr.Tim Ireland starts political campaigns over issues he cares about. 2 www.classiccafes.co.uk The author of this site has dedicated his Blog to classic Formica(tm) caf�s which are often discounted as 'greasy spoons'. 3 www.back-to-iraq.com Former 'New York Daily News' newspaper reporter Mr.Christopher Allbritton was the first journalist-Blogger to be fully funded by his readers. 4 www.wonkette.com Part of 'Gawker Media', this site was nominated by 'Forbes' magazine as one of the best Blogging sites around. 5 www.themovieBlog.com Started in 2001 this Blog is, as the name suggests, all about movies. 6 www.newsBlog.com 'The Guardian's' own Blog, which is complied of all the best bits from the Bloggerati that have caught the attention. 7 www.gawker.com A satirical look at the life of 'Manhattanites'. Run by 'Gawker Media', who run numerous North American Blogging sites. 8 www.loobylu.com Here Ms.Claire Robertson keeps a beautifully illustrated personal diary. 9 www.riverbendBlog.Blogspot.com Titled 'Baghdad Burning' this Blog is an on-line diary from an Iraqi girl talking about war and politics from her capital city. 10 www.plasticbag.org Winner of 'The 2004 Bloggie Award' for best British Blog. BBC employee Mr.Tom Coates has been keeping his personal Blog for five years. 'New kids on the Blog', Susan mansfield, The Scotsman, 2005-01-14, Fr

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