Denise, here's another item to add to the mix for your next Sound Policy program.
Randy Holloway alerted me to a CNN Money article on "blogging safely" that he compared to the classic documentary scare film, Reefer Madness, because of its breathless alarmism.
First of all, I admire Randy for actually reading any article on blogging in 2005 that defines blogs in the opening sentence as "personal Web diaries." In my own system of scanning and triaging what I read, I'd move on to something else immediately.
In fairness, the article does point to some recent "guidelines" from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that offer some common sense approaches for employees who blog. And, in fairness, the article does a good job of summarizing some of the relevant legal concerns. It's unfortunate that the author didn't have the chance to read Randy's post about the article to see how a blogger like Randy can use his "personal diary" to write a good article that makes a good point, offers a balanced approach and provides some humor.
But, gee whiz, the hyperbole setting for the CNN Money article is turned all the way up to 10 and the Reefer Madness reference does seem appropriate.
I also got just a tiny sense that perhaps the author is not a blogger and probably hasn't read a lot of blogs.
The money quote:
"The Safest Way of All This isn't in the how-to blog guide, but remember the old days of paper and pen diaries? True, the audience is limited to the authors themselves and maybe a snooping sibling or two. Ones with a lock and key work best."
I'm tempted to write an article about how to write safely about blogging for traditional news publications. I'm not sure that CNN Money understands the major hit its credibility takes when they publish pieces like this one. In my own case, I've knocked CNN Money's credibility as a news resource way down as a result of this article. I've moved Randy's way up.
Look, the issues of blogging by employees are complex and a large number of factors must be considered. Articles like this one don't help the needed discussion (except to the extent that they provoke discussion).
I'm not sure that any company seriously wants to adopt a "put your blog under lock and key" blogging policy, especially if they want to keep their best and most creative and innovative employees. The issues of confidentiality, trade secrets, who speaks on behalf of the company, criticism of the company, and others are important issues that should be addressed (although I'm still surprised to find that they aren't already addressed by exisitng policies in most companies). The key in adopting policies is to balance the competing concerns and to reflect the philosophy and culture of your organization. That's not a purely "legal" decision.
Let me point again to the set of handout materials I prepared for my recent presentation at ABA TECHSHOW on technology use policies, where I tried to take a practical. "fair and balanced" (oops, that's CNN's competitor's tag line, isn't it?) approach to the issues involved in putting together these policies. You can get a PDF file (about 100KB) of that handout here.
My concern is that the more alarmist and sensational the reporting, the more difficult it will be for employers and employees to reach a reasonable balance in developing policies about blogging.
As I said in my presentation, I'd like to see policies based on a notion of "use common sense and good judgment," with the policies specifying the details necessary to help people stay within that philosophy and comply with applicable laws, regulations and contractual requirements. That's quite different than the "use a lock and key" approach. Both are possibilities, but I think your most valuable employees will prefer my approach to the "lock and key" approach.
In today's efforts to land and retain the best talent, you will want to give plenty of thought to the real world consequences of your blogging policies, not just the purely legal issues. Overly alarmist articles are not helpful to your decision-making.