Saturday, August 06, 2005


Sometime ago, I linked to a recent warning, issued by a pseudonymous Ivan Tribble, to young academics about the perils of blogging, particularly if they are looking for jobs. Several academics have given a fitting reply, pointing out, rightly, that this piece reveals more about the author and his/her obnoxious colleagues than about the bloggers.

Nevertheless, we have to thank Tribble for articulating certain paranoid -- but all too common -- beliefs among recruiters. He talks about at least two such beliefs; I just want to argue that neither of them is unique to academics.

First, during your job search, you try to create a certain image: you know, ..., an image that exudes competence, professionalism, sincerity, likability, and the like. In a blog, sometimes, you tend to just be, well, yourself, not some carefully created image; Tribble warns that your online self, as revealed through your blog, may actually work against you in your job search. So, you'd better leave your conversation with your therapist out of your blog ... ;-)

All this is not new, and nor is it unique to academics; personal interviews, group discussions, and plant visits are meant for this sort of 'assessment about the person', and are routinely used in all industries. Now, recruiters have one more option: your blogs.

The second fear of the recruiter, also explicitly stated by Tribble, is a variation of the first. It is that the blogger may gossip about -- or, rat on -- his/her colleagues and associates. What if he/she starts washing departmental dirty linen in public? Again, I don't see why this should be unique to academics, nor, actually, to blogging. If one wants to badmouth one's colleagues, it can be done in so many ways! And, departmental politics is universal; this is why Dilbert strips strike a chord in all of us -- cubicled or non-cubicled.

[One obnoxious thing about the recruiters' suspicion about the blogger's potential for 'bad behaviour' is the following: "Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum". For saying this, Tribble was, rightly, chewed out by many bloggers; Dan Drezner's response was absolutely great! ]

Now, just as saying bad things about your employer on a TV talk show is likely to get you fired, writing about your colleagues and associates in an inappropriate manner in a public forum will also get you fired. Make no mistake: blogs are a public forum! Your intention to keep your blog private does not make it so; Google will find it, and out it!

Do take a look at this post over at Savage Minds for a thoughtful discussion about how some of these instances are related to the modern American culture being "structured around the hard division between public and private spaces, personaes, and expression".

There are many examples: a new recruit was fired -- within a month of joining Google -- for writing about his workplace. Several months ago, an adjunct faculty at SMU was fired because her anonymous blog, in which she wrote a lot of unpleasant things about her students and colleagues, somehow got outed. So, anonymity is of no help! The most recent example is that of a journalism professor who was fired for writing some pretty inappropriate things about one of his student in his blog. Another recent example is that of a nanny being fired for things that she had on her blog. Out of these four examples, two have nothing to do with academics.

So, here is the bottomline:

(a) Don't volunteer any information on your blog that you wouldn't in a personal interview; this information may be held against you!

(b) If you knew the room is bugged, you wouldn't say vile things about your colleagues in a conversation in that room, would you? A blog is like a room that is swarming with snoopy bugs.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Abi, here is one more instance of someone getting fired: the famousWashingtoninne.

    When I discovered that my advisor visited my blog, I decided to remove one post, which was about the present state of research in my area. I thought that he would not like it. It's a trade-off, between anonymity and not posting whatever you want to.

  2. Abi said...

    Thanks, Vishnu, for the Washingtonienne link; an anonymous blogger writes juicy -- really, really juicy -- stuff about her colleagues, gets outed, and gets fired. This episode provides yet another data point for the view that anonymity on the web is never foolproof!

    Your decision to remove that post was a good one; after all, in the offline (aka 'real') world, we would certainly hold back from saying many things if we knew that someone might hear us. IMHO, blogs are no different.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Here's another instance of sth similar. Far from firing or any such thing but kind of a warning. Lubos leashed.

    Yeah the best bet is not to write anything that you wouldn't be saying among a lot of people including strangers. But keeping quiet in a packed room is much easier than typing away whatever comes to mind sitting alone in one's room.

  4. Anonymous said...

    Hi Abi
    Very good post.
    I am always careful what I write in my blog. I say very little about work. I also try not to say too much about my family as well.

    I know a blogger who got an enormous ammout of plublicity fanning the Washingtonienne scandal. But he had to start another blog because his original blog got traffic only from scandal searchers, and no one was actually reading his blog. He still gets nearly 1000 hits a day on his old blog, and he hasn't updated it in nearly 6 months.

  5. Anonymous said...

    I am always in danger of this - not quite getting fired because I dont work anywhere - but I sometimes use my blog as a rant place for things I am unhapy with about my work. the only comfort is knowing most of my clients are not even aware of what a bog is - which also has a flip side - I wish they did and were more open to new media / communictaion options!

  6. Anonymous said...

    An excellent post Abi.....

    I completely avoid writing about anything related to work (or even my area of "expertise") for this reason. My blog has nothing to do with my academic life in any way, nor does it have anything that cannot be said publicly to anyone.

    It's a very important point to keep in mind, and remain conscious about all the time.

  7. Abi said...

    Anand, Michael, Charu, Sunil: thanks for your comments.

    It is not surprising that people have strong opinions about their profession, and about larger questions about how it is organized -- not just in one's place of work, but also in the rest of the country/world. Ironically, by expressing such opinions openly, they are likely to end up stepping on the toes of their colleagues. I certainly see this as a pretty serious problem that each blogger has to resolve.

    As for me, I talk about higher ed all the time; many of the issues are, thankfully (;-), quite general, and they involve -- or, affect -- our Institute quite indirectly, if at all. In any event, I avoid saying anything directly about our Institute, or its innver workings (unless it is truly positive!); if I see something interesting (but not quite positive) that is already in the public domain, I link to it, and offer some comments.

    And of course, I have a disclaimer on the sidebar ...