The subject of free speech has been a theme of several columns I’ve been writing these days.
As a journalist, I’m a big proponent of the First Amendment, and bristle whenever anyone tries to tell me what I can and cannot write. I maintain that information in power, and people deserve to know the facts and then make up their own minds about what to do with those facts.
So, that means that I have the responsibility to make sure my facts are correct, and the information I provide people is accurate, without “spinning” those facts to reflect my personal opinion.
Unfortunately, that’s not always true of others who use the written word. With 8 million blogs, there are plenty of people who use the forum to spread gossip and innuendo, or to even spread a message of intolerance and hate.
I, myself, have been the subject of blogs, mostly because of my recent book, “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” For the most part, I’ve thought what was written about the book has been fair and most of it has been very positive and flattering. However, some personal comments were written about me – that had absolutely nothing to do with the book – and I can’t say I liked it.
That helped give me some insight about why bosses get so nervous about employee blogging. Bosses don’t know what could possibly pop up on an employee’s blog – could it be proprietary information or a riff on how incompetent the CEO is or some snide comment regarding someone’s weight? – but they know enough to be concerned that once the blog post is out there, there’s not much they can do.
That’s because the written word is forever. Companies understand that once you post something they consider detrimental to their reputation or hurtful to morale or productivity, then it’s like trying to put spilled milk back in the container. While you may remove the actual post, it’s still likely to exist in other places in cyberspace by bloggers who pass it on.
One of my most recent columns dealt with free speech in the workplace. Bruce Barry, a Vanderbilt University professor, makes the point that if employers restrict what employees can and cannot say in the workplace, it undermines the value of our society. He maintains that it’s our ability to talk about issues of the day that is critical to the health of our democracy.
With an upcoming presidential election, and the growing number of blogs, the line between company governance and free speech is bound to generate even more discussion.
The importance of responsible blogging cannot be stressed enough. Firing intolerant messages or poisonous rumors into the Web audience is harmful. It’s like spewing shotgun pellets into a crowd of people – innocent people are going to get hurt. Companies are not going to put up with it, and neither should anyone else.
Let’s continue to support free speech, but let’s also be focused on keeping the debate healthy and fair.