The etiquette of blogging your job

A friend of mine, a teacher, has been having a difficult time at work and has recently returned after several months of stress-related sick leave. At an apparently routine meeting with her line manager, she was startled to be asked if she blogged about her work. She has done, via a general educational blog that doesn’t specify names or places, though her last entry was quite a while ago. Should she feel threatened by this question, and how did her workplace identify her online presence?

This got me thinking about the etiquette of blogging about one’s job, and social media generally. Like many people, when I first became active online somewhere between ten and fifteen years ago, I wasn’t always as discreet as I could have been and there were some unfortunate results. Nothing life-changing, as it turned out, but I got close enough to realise the dangers. I resolved to reveal nothing of my RL identity online, and kept my resolution for some years. Partly this was because I was active in LJ fandom and that isn’t something you necessarily want everyone to know about. I now think of this relatively anonymous period as Phase Two of my social media career.

Phase Three is where I am at the present. I think it began when I realised that having a Gravatar ID had its uses. The Internet has now evolved to the point where it can raise serious questions about your credibility if you aren’t prepared to identify yourself at all online. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you having multiple identities of whatever level of weirdness you’re comfortable with. But once I was tweeting reputable RL media about my views on life, the universe and everything, I felt that they were entitled to know my real name, see a photograph and have a few ways of placing me socially in the real world. So I’m generally comfortable with my photograph being freely available.

However, I am decidedly circumspect about the kind of material I blog about. I do not rant about my family relationships or my job, I do not name my friends and I don’t post photographs of my children online – they are old enough to embarrass themselves on Facebook if that’s what they want to do. Nor do I have my own Facebook account – I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the degree of self-exposure that involves and my offspring made it abundantly clear that to do so would feel like a signifiant intrusion of mine into their social networks. I don’t mind giving my opinions, as anyone who follows this blog will know, but I try to keep them intellectual or political rather than personal – if I’m not willing to join a debate, I won’t post.

The whole area of blogging about one’s job, however, is an interesting one. I tend to work on the assumption that anything I write has a reasonable chance of getting traced back to me, and that it’s probably less private than I’d care to believe. A few months ago, after a particularly frustrating string of incidents, I had a little rant about the physical environment I was working in. Shortly afterwards, apparently unprompted, it improved dramatically. I have no official idea what led to said improvement and it’s probably better not to ask. I haven’t blogged about my job since. Most of the time, I really enjoy it. I have my differences of opinion with colleagues but I don’t discuss them online.

National policy issues that could impact on my ability to do my job are fair game, however. They are in the public domain. I think one difficulty with more personal work-related blogging is that most of us tend to talk more about the negative stuff than the days that go well. For that reason, a work blog can come over, quite unfairly, as one long whinge. I’m not sure what the legal position is if nobody can prove who you really are, but it seems possible to me that employers are justified in having a concern about that. Far be it from me to limit free speech, and sometimes whistle-blowing is a regrettable necessity, but it’s far better done under the auspices of unions and other professional bodies, or at least with due consideration rather than an explosion of frustration.

Does all this make me sound very anal? Quite possibly. I’ve spent much of my life writing journals of various sorts and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m rarely as interesting to others as I am to myself, and that even at my relatively advanced age (early fifties) I’m not too old to recoil in horror from the petulant idiot I was a few years ago. I’d prefer to be doing that in private. Google is like the Dark Lord. His arm, as Aragorn was fond of saying grimly, has indeed grown long.

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