Nothing like throwing my own self into the pot of hot, boiling oil, but I know I’m going to get slammed big time for the following:

A big number in Daypop yesterday and today was the now unemployed Heather Hamilton, who lost her job because of her weblog postings (also more at MetaFilter and check Daypop for numerous citations).

I do sympathize with Heather and hope that she finds something that she likes quickly. And I do agree with her that she should post whatever she feels comfortable posting — as long as she realizes that there are consequences to her actions. When Heather states the following:

As for those of you who think I was stupid to post things on my website about my job and about co-workers: I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to be censored.

I’m right there with her…as long as she’s aware that these postings can hurt other people or herself. I, like Heather, can write anything I want with this weblog and that’s true power. However, with the power comes responsibility.

In some ways this follows from earlier discussions about weblogging and criticism, but the issue goes beyond personal feelings of hurt — it enters into issues of personal freedom and censorship, and when one can safely cross the line in what one writes. This is a serious question: can you write whatever you want within a personal weblog and not be penalized for it? I’m not talking about getting somebody angry and they stop talking to you. I’m talking about being fired, being sued, and even being jailed.

A weblog is not the same as a personal paper diary, which no one will read unless you allow them to read it. It is a online publication that can, as we found out from our very missed friend, Allan Moult, be granted an ISSN as a publication similar to Time and Newsweek.

Within this weblog, if I were to say (and to any authorities listening, this is purely hypothetical) “I want to blow up so and so”, then chances are someone’s going to be keeping an eye on me, or be at my door. We’ve learned through too many incidents with kids and schools that not listening to rants such as these have dire consequences.

If I were to say (and to any O’Reilly people listening, this is purely hypothetical) “O’Reilly books are so lame”, then O’Reilly has a very real right not to have me write for them, rather than give me all the opportunities I want (in point of fact, I love the O’Reilly folks, they take very good care of me).

There are consequences to our actions. If Heather says the following about VP of her company:

I hate that one of the 10 vice-presidents in this 30-person company wasn’t born with an “indoor” voice, but with a shrill, monotone, speaking-over-a-passing-F16 outdoor voice. And he loves to hear himself speak, even if just to himself. He loves to use authoritative expressions such as “NO! NO! NO! IT’S LIKE THIS!” and “DUDE, NO! YOU SHOOT IT LIKE THIS!” because, well, he’s a VP and must be an authority on something, right? Lately he’s been an authority on patently grotesque facial hair patterns.

Well, she’s going to get fired. After I read some of her postings, I hate to say it, I’d fire her, too.

Heather has a right to say whatever she wants on her weblog, as long as she’s willing to take responsibility for her actions, and accept the consequences of same. I may admire her for the courage of her convictions, but there’s a key element to that concept and that is courage. Taking a stand without any possibility of negative reprecussions, or refusing to accept that you may be held accountable isn’t really courageous, is it?

In reading through the many citations referencing Heather’s site, I found the following at Blog Hit:

Heather of dooce’s recent troubles really has me thinking about the nature of my blogging. I lay it all out here. I talk about drinking, drugs, all the nasty things in my life that I wouldn’t want a prospective employer to know about.

Honestly, I don’t see myself censoring anything I talk about here. It’s my personal space, done on my personal time, and would never affect my performance at a job. You can’t live in fear of expressing yourself publicly.

What is there about weblogging that seems to give us all the impression that our personal space is surrounded by an inpenetrable force field that separates our personal lives from our professional? If you’re doing something that violates company policy, such as drugs, and your talk about it online, you’re going to get fired.

Still, where’s the line in what you can discuss without fear of being jailed, sued, or fired? I should be able to say, and have said, that Bush is an idiot, and Ashcroft scares the hell out of me, without reprecussion — unless I happen to work directly with both.

Would I fire someone for exposing past drug use or personal difficulties? No, and I would hope that most companies wouldn’t be this shallow. As we have seen with Diveintomark, firing a person because they talk about recovering from past addiction is not only morally wrong, it should be illegal. However, this is not the same as Heather’s situation, as Jan Karlsbjerg has noted in his weblog.

Would I fire someone who makes racists comments online, or pokes fun at his or her co-workers, and says negative things about the company, or talks about taking drugs? Chances are, I would. Does this me an iron-clad member of the establishment? Maybe.

This, is a discussion that needs to happen among the weblogs, if only to serve to remind us all that we don’t write in a vacuum — people read what we write.

It’s interesting but talks about accountability in a related posting. Among the comments was:

And if you send an anonymous email that results in someone getting fired, own up to it. Innocuous, generalized comments are one thing, emailing someone’s boss is taking things to an entirely different level.

This is directly related to Heather losing her job, because a person sent an anonymous email about Heather’s writings. Yet, there is an accountability that Heather must also accept herself, for her own writings, something we all need to understand. You can’t pick and choose accountability or responsibility based on a “we’re webloggers and we stick together” attitude..

We are what we write. No one forces us to write anything in our weblogs, and we have to accept responsibility for our writing as we do with all of our other actions in life.

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