How long before a blogger sues a company for not being hired?

July 22, 2006

I was a guest on Saturday with Susan McReynolds on RTE 1 this morning in the good company of Damien and Claire. The piece was a general introduction to blogging and why people blog etc but we also touched on issues of privacy and work related matters such as the recent La Petite Anglaise situation (ie workers being suspended and/or fired for blogging). I think this latter one is going to grow and grow. The point I made in the interview is that it’s not only how much (if any – and not much in the above example) of a company’s information a blogger might reveal it’s also about how much of our personal selves we bring into the office even via virtual methods. We have highly codified rules about how we behave in work settings. One of those rules is that emotional or intimate behaviour belongs at the front door. When a “boss” discovers a personal blog they are faced with the reality that the blogger is a whole human being – they can read about who this person is outside of that door and they are then faced with the dilemma of what to do with that information back at base. We can’t not know what we know. If I have a personal blog and write salacious details of my comings and goings that has nothing to do with work – is it becoming behaviour? Likewise if I write an innocuous post about various other interests. Am I the kind of person my company want’s to hire? What happens when the personalised water cooler conversations are broadcast loud and proud? And what business is it of my employer who or what I am outside of the front door if I am not breaching any confidentialities? What kind of image building do bloggers contribute to by how they blog outside of company hours? How much control can and should employers have over the people who work for them? How much responsibility do bloggers have for what they say and write inside or outside of company time?
Here’s my prediction: Employers that don’t get blogging will increasingly use information garnered online to make decisions on hiring and one of these days a blogger is going to slap a pre-emptive strike on a company because they failed to hire them due to irrelevant information garnered online. A new type of prejudice will come into the daily parlance and while companies think they have the upper hand right now because most of the focus is on bloggers who reveal company business, I think business in general needs to take a long hard look at the kind of information it is ethically disposed to gathering and using and under what circumstances. Having a policy on blogging is a start (preferably one that is negotiated) but there are much wider ethical issues here which we’re only beginning to touch on and it’s incumbent on bloggers to be part of that conversation, not merely reacting and responding to it.
You can access the programme by clicking on this link, scoot forward to 41.08 minutes in where our interview begins. Cian from Irish Election did a phone interview towards the end of the programme (scoot forward to 1.25.36 for the beginning of his segment).

12 People reacted on this

  1. This isn’t directly related to employers’ reaction to blogging, but… I just read about a rapist here in NH whose conviction is being appealed based on something one of the jurors said on his blog. The defendant’s lawyer argued that the blogged remarks prove the juror was prejudiced against his client.
    As the police say here in the States, “Anything you say can and will be used against you…”

  2. The issue of an online persona works the other way. I know executive search consultants that will not shortlist candidates who lack any form of electronic footprint. Lacking an online identity in a public world looks is similar to living off the grid. You need an electronic identity if you expect to have street cred in a public space. You don’t need a blog to get that identity but smart blogging makes easy work of forging a focused electronic identity.
    I run four blogs, two with pseudonyms. One is never linked to the other three. Abby Lee (aka works with film productions in London and keeps her erotic lusts on her blog (although she has hit on her boss). It’s highly unlikely that anyone in her workplace knows she’s the one with the steamy blog or the book serialised by the London Sunday Times.
    People have separated personal and public long before blogging. I’m wonder what case law applies to a job candidate who feels prejudiced before appearing for interview. In all the HR guidebooks I’ve used, the pertinent instruments reviewed during discovery sessions include only the written notes from the panel or sworn testimony concerning the line of questioning put to candidates. Perhaps there are other angles that an unsuccessful job candidate could use to take a case related to feeling prejudiced by blogging.

  3. I take your point Bernie but I think you have to be very strategic and have a degree of technical know how to keep your persona ducks lined up in a row in cyberspace. The average person just simply lacks that know how. I’m not sure what legislation could currently be used by someone who isn’t appointed but claiming that the interview process was prejudicial, biased or that the candidate wasn’t given the same kind of interview as others might be a start. Increasingly people are challenging the format of interview processes as being biased when they have difficulties with the content of interviews or when they are unsuccessful in being hired (for legitimate reasons)…I’m coming across a lot of examples of this in my PhD research for example.
    I think Lori’s point is really interesting and it links to how web savvy people are – and how casually we can post on a forum etc etc – add it all up together and we’re leaving vast footprints behind us.
    I know several people who do not appear online in any shape or form now and want to keep it that way even recruiters who adopt the position you’re talking about are making “prejudicial” assumptions about potential candidates before they’ve had a chance to find out why

  4. You cannot interact in a public place without ending up online. Object to a planning application, attend a public political rally, sign a petition and you’re part of a digital data collection that ends up online. You might not be prominent but you’re part of an internet collection. That’s the way a society with transparency as a core value runs itself.
    As you well know, online anonymity died with the rise of Google. The newest generation of knowledge workers actively position themselves online before they stump for jobs. They look for a company to have online faces when they research potential jobs. Those in middle management or senior positions may think they’re invisible to the internet because they didn’t put themselves on it. That’s an invalid assumption and potentially disconcerting for people who think they’re untouched by a cyberculture presence.

  5. I’ve maintained multiple personae since childhood. Conn Ó Muíneacháin is a real person. You’ll find his name on school rolls in English-speaking East-Kerry as well as in the Cork Gaeltacht. He’s been involved with the Irish language since school and college and his oldest friends know him by this name. In recent years he’s been heavily involved in blogging and podcasting.
    However, he does not have a birth certificate or a driving licence (or a bank account or a credit card). Like many other Irish people he is also known by an anglicised form of his name. I’m not going to make it easy for Google by printing it here, but it’s not a secret – you can easily work it out for yourself, Annette! 🙂
    Let’s call him Conn English! He’s the one my mother recognises best. He was registered at college and graduated but had no involvement in student activities and no friends. He’s worked consistently for many years however, and is currently on the payroll of a multinational corporation. He has never returned a library book on time.
    I do not hide my identities or activities. Anyone who knows me can know anything about me, if they are interested. But like many other people, I am uncomfortable at the idea of people who do not know me being distracted by irrelevant information. In my early 20s I dithered as I simultaneously pursued multiple career paths and I maintained at least 2 separate CVs: one for Engineering; one for jobs in Radio and Television; versions of each in both languages as well as additional custom versions as the need arose.
    This was all in the days before Google. Nowadays I think people automatically use nicknames, pet names, etc (“Johnny”, “Spud”, “that girl”) for online activities of a “personal” nature. I blogged anonymously for over a year before I decided to use my name, but I would certainly never have chosen to use my “corporate” name to publish anything more colourful than a technical report.
    I learned a long time ago: large corporations lack imagination. HR executives and engineering managers do not want to see anything more exotic than golf under the “Interests” heading on your CV – in fact they would much prefer you didn’t have a life at all. “So you’re a DJ then? Ha ha!”
    Take the time to get to know me and I’ll gladly show you my world. But I won’t lay it all on the line, out of context, for a cursory Google search by a disinterested employer looking for an excuse to whittle down a shortlist.

  6. “Take the time to get to know me and I’ll gladly show you my world. But I won’t lay it all on the line, out of context, for a cursory Google search by a disinterested employer looking for an excuse to whittle down a shortlist.”
    That’s precisely the point I was making Conn – Google is being used as a way of shortlising and many, many people aren’t as savvy as you or Bernie (or I?). What’s your view on the Petite Anglaise situation (or any of the other bloggers who’ve been “fired” for ostensibly bringing their companies into “disrepute”?

  7. Actually, I agree with both of you! I think it all depends on the type of employer and their intent when googling.
    Larger, more traditional employers (especially in the lean, pre-tiger days) who find themselves with a high number of applications for that job in cubicle 741 (Grade B2) will want to use Google to eliminate candidates. They are looking for someone to fit their “matrix” and help oil the wheels of the juggernaut. They’re hoping Google will throw up court reports, or evidence of involvement in radical politics or culture. If you are applying for that kind of job, Google invisibility is a plus.
    On the other hand, if an employer is looking to fill a creative role (if they really mean it when they say “self-starter, own initiative, …”), then the opposite is true. Google invisibility should disqualify candidates. For example, those seeking to fill academic and research positions should google to see what the candidates have published – whether formally – or in blogs – and how they are regarded by their peers.
    The thing is. I think most people understand this, and they instinctively know how to protect their privacy. Bernie cites Abby Lee: I assume that’s a pseudonym? She’s achieved publishing success because the internet allowed her to exercise and publicise her creative flair without risking exposure and her 9-5 career. Hordes of people are doing exacly the same thing. Look at any message board: can you connect the various nicknames to their real-life personas?
    I see this from both sides. I’m starting a business at the moment. I’m a log way off hiring employees, but when I do I’ll use Google to find me people with passion and ability. Already I’m recruiting potential partners and advisiors, based on their blogs. I think this is a fairer method of assessment for both parties than a 2 page CV full of lies and 1-hour interview which barely scratches the surface.
    Re: La Petite Anglaise, I don’t think her employers have a leg to stand on. I suspect they were looking for an excuse to get rid of her. She seems to be a happy, cheerful type of person – fulfilled in her personal life. I suspect she may have been guilty of coming to work with a smile on her face.
    I think she fell foul of the One Thing that makes bloggers want to hide their identities: the “Who the hell do you think you are?” syndrome!

  8. Around the time Annette started this thread, there were just over 13,000 friends of Ray D’Arcy on Bebo. A weekend passed and now Ray has more than 15,000 friends in his Bebo entourage. The ironic thing is that Ray D’Arcy, during several morning broadcasts, disavows ever signing onto Bebo.
    As hard as you might try to show a genuine face, there’s always the chance that someone else can be you.

  9. Annette
    Great job on the interview. it took me a while to find this post as I had bookmarked your old TOL site and promptly got lost. Anyhow both you and Damien came across great, well done.

  10. Hi Annette, I tend to agree with you on how much of your past life should not be available for scrutiny today. I’m sure that everyone single person on this planet is guilty of some form of delinquency, in fact that is what “experience” means. That you have learned how ‘not’ to do something. However it is becoming increasingly apparent that over zealous HR agencies and managers are not being able to distinguish the fine line that defines “experience” with “irresponsible” and in the process are passing over many a fine addition to their corporations. Some people will not hire you if you do not posses an online identity or figure as an entity on the web. I realise that I do not have one because i very rarely have time to surf the web, however this in no way reflects my competence to work simply because i am too busy out there working in the real world and do not have time to be online other than check my mail. In fact I would not even be on this site if I had not read in the paper about abby lee being unmasked and then chanced upon this discussion. Thanks great discussion though!!

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