See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, Blog No Evil – Self Censorship and Blogging (Photo: Kevin Trotman)
I’m sure that any employee of a company who maintains an active weblog will have come across the self imposed limitations that one places on oneself when talking about the world they inhabit. Given that many of us spend between one third and a half of the hours on any given working day at our place of employment, our workplace definitely imposes itself on our life. It is thus natural to wish to discuss aspects of this part of your daily life – but the question that arises is one of what you should talk about, what you shouldn’t, where that line is and how you determined it.
I make no attempt to hide the fact that I am employed as a Graduate Engineer by EnergyAustralia. You only need to peruse the archives to discover this, or perhaps stumble upon me on any number of the social networks – both professional and non-professional – that I am part of on the world wide web. At the same time I am careful to ensure that people understand two things about me. First, my opinions are just that, my own, they are not those of my employer. Secondly I write what I feel like on this blog, there is no incentive, requirement or request for me to write about any topic form anyone (although often I will end up writing responses to questions posed by friends). Enter, now, self censorship
The Green Light, the Red Light and the Ambiguous Amber Light
There are obviously areas within ones life and work that one cannot write about on a blog. Things that one would definitely consider to be “red light” in terms of writing about would most definitely include anything that you’ve signed non-disclosure contracts on or areas where there is a requirement to maintain information in confidence. Included in this would obviously be anything that could be perceived as slanderous or without foundation.
There are also areas where many people are given the green light to proceed. There wouldn’t be too many companies who would prevent positive feedback and write ups about them by their employees. Positive stories, even from employees, enhance a companies standing and will most likely assist recruitment of the web savvy generation who do their homework in more ways than just a company’s annual report.
The there are the areas where one must make a judgement call. Not quite green, not quite red. The posts may be a critique of an area within a company, a strategy being used, or an outcome that has come about or any other post that may be perceived to paint the company in a negative shade. These are ares where issues of self censorship come to the fore. How much should one restrict what they are saying about a topic on the periphery of the company that may be used against you, or the company, in the future, even if true.
Reality, Perception and the Hypermedia
An often quoted piece of advice that I came upon when I was younger is that:
Reality is nothing, it is only perception that matters
In the current climate of the hypermedia, where standards of journalism have reached rock bottom and what passes as journalism these days fails basic checks on the validity or accuracy of a story when the aim is tabloid issue hyping, it is understandable that many companies are oversensitive about any statement that could be construed to be coming from them if it could ever be perceived to be negative. Many companies employ image consultants, spin doctors to some, whose sole task is to manage the perception of the company regardless of the reality.
Corporate Blogging, Private Blogging and Blogging Policies
The more progressive companies around the world have been taking up the use of the corporate blog in the past few years. Moving beyond the dictates of group-mail and then group-email from the leaders within companies and business units, shifting to a blogging platform allows (if wanted) feedback, even if moderated, from the audience. It is often said that companies with blogs, maintained and regularly updated and with a policy of openness, accountability and transparency have a better relationship with their customers. The change from formal speeches to more regular updates from senior executives for either internal or external audiences definitely boosts confidence if the blogs are well written and sincere. But where does that leave the private blogs that may touch on issues that criss cross the workplace? Many of these same companies have employed an internal policy regarding private blogging, some more open and relaxed than others, but definitely with the understanding that simply clamping down on can lead to web-savvy employees being driven away or underground.
Those companies who have yet to embrace what the world wide web can do for them are more likely to impose more draconian positions on their staff when it comes to commentary of life on the blogs of the world wide web. This more often than not comes from the mindset of control and hierarchy that is most commonly seen in the less agile companies, in those who have yet to take full advantage of the feedback that openness and transparency can provide.
So where does that leave me?
I work for a government owned corporation. As such, the executives are painfully aware of the companies image in the media and the community and how they are perceived. The potential for comment on topics that can potentially impact the industry, and thus the company, are definitely real for me. As a result I most definitely do temper what I publish, taking into account sensitivities regarding contracts. I also have no wish to jeopardise my position for the future. There are more topics that I’d like to speak on that are relevant to older industries, such as engineering in general and the electricity industry in particular. Many of these remain incomplete drafts at this stage as I work and rework them into polished pieces that (hopefully) will be read as intended. As to when they will be published, keep your eyes peeled as there are a couple in the works. That said, I have mentioned my work environment before, and given a solid critique of ASP.NET, which is used by some of the application developers at work for web application development.
What about you?
So I throw the question over to anyone who has managed to stumble across this paperclip in the rubbish. If you do blog, how close do you get to mentioning anything that is even vaguely related to your employment? What policies (if any) does your company have on blogging? Does your company run its own corporate blog, either on the internet or intranet?