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Solana Beach, summer 2002. A job interview. “So you like to post on the Internet a lot,” said the human resources person. “Yeah,” I said. “How do you know?”

“Did some online investigating.” The term “to google” was not yet widely used. “I came across your two blogs and some posts you made on news groups, and there was a listserv. And something about you posting under a pseudonym at UCSD.”

“Do you always do this?” I asked.

“We do now. A lot of companies are running Net checks during prescreen.”

“I see,” I said, wondering if anything embarrassing, scandalous, or plain stupid had been uncovered from my early years as a keyboard cowboy.

“Tell me, would you ever blog about your work environment, if you were to be hired here?”

“Not at all,” I replied.

“Even in code?”

“I’m sure I would have better things to blog about,” I said, waving my hand as though it were nothing. I quickly added, “You know, life, concerts, politics, the weather…”

“Have you ever blogged about previous jobs?”

“You tell me,” I said jokingly. “You read my blogs.”

My interviewer’s face was stone-cold straight.

I had, but that blog no longer existed. “No,” I responded. I knew the interview wasn’t going any further. I was told they would call me within 48 hours. The call never came.

Was I pre-dooced?

Urbandictionary.com defines “dooce” as “1. To be fired from your job because of the contents of your weblog. 2. To get fired from your job because you post about your job on your weblog.”

In 2002, Heather B. Armstrong, now a wife and mother in Salt Lake City, contributed a new word to the global lexicon when her blog, dooce.com, was the reason for her job termination. (“Dooce” was a common typo she made for “dude” when chatting online.) At the time she was living in Los Angeles, exploring a new life free of the restrictions of the Mormon faith she’d left behind, dating actors, and working as a Web designer. In her blog, she chronicled her life, which included talking about her job and coworkers. Her firing sparked an online debate about blogging subjects, First Amendment issues, privacy concerns, Internet tyranny and control, and systematic censorship. The debate jumped from her blog to newsgroups and finally the media. This occurred at a time when the political sector was discussing whether bloggers were journalists, with the same protective rights as reporters.

* * *

Another word for blogger is “escribitionist,” “a person who keeps a diary or journal via electronic means, and in particular, publishes their entries on the world wide web,” according to Wikipedia. “Escribionist” was conceived in June 1999 by Erin Venema, an “online diarist,” in an email to a list of “web journalers.”

Local escribitionist Chris Morrow, a former spokesperson for livejournal.com, once one of the largest blogging sites, says she was dooced before the word existed and has faced stigma because of her online presence. Her website, gigglecam.com, has been visually recording her married life with her husband Marty since 1998. They were pioneers of online reality programming. The website once attracted hundreds of thousands of voyeuristic visitors, fans, enemies; there were write-ups in magazines and guest spots on radio and television talk shows. The webcams followed them from Dallas to the Gaslamp Quarter to their loft in Little Italy, shut down only when moving; otherwise, the cams run 24/7, available online to anyone who wishes to view the couple watching TV, playing with their dogs, or entertaining guests.

“We’re not so unique anymore,” Morrow says. “Everyone has a cam up. But when we started, no one else was doing this sort of thing.” She concedes that catering to people’s fascination with peeking into the private lives of strangers has its downside. There was the stalker.

He started off as an Internet friend that she never met in real life. “He got weird, wanting my attention more and more,” she says. “I clipped him and then started to receive letters from the Calvin and Hobbes attorney. I published the comic in my chronicles. The cease and desist letter said to take it down. I also got a letter from Discovery Channel. I had an agreement to display their cams in my chat room. This guy sent them a letter saying I was a porn site and how appalled he was that the Discovery Channel was associated with porn.”

The individual contacted her employer next. “I was working for a dot-com start-up, CU Shopper. This was in 2000. The stalker sent them letters and said I was writing about work in my Web journal. I wasn’t. I was writing about me. They called me on it, and I was let go.”

She wasn’t going to stop blogging. It was a way of life for her. Not wanting to be fired again, she told potential employers up front what she did online. “I went to temp agencies,” she said, “and told them I had an online journal. They didn’t react well. They said, ‘We feel uncomfortable you do that.’ ”

Cushopper.com, “a California-based provider of direct and online shopping to credit union members,” according to a 2000 press release, no longer seems to exist. The website now lists references to mystery shopping providers.

* * *

“The Internet has changed in many social ways,” Chris Morrow says.

Today, a person can be dooced for any activity on the Web, from posting content, written or visual, on YouTube, MySpace, or Facebook, to podcasting, BBS posting, digital surfing, cyber-villaging, broadband pontificating, Web whistle-blowing, hypergossiping, or speechifying in the data slipstream.

Ellen Simonetti, a former employee of Delta Airlines, maintained a blog entitled “Queen of Sky: Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant.” She claims she kept the blog as a form of therapy after the death of her mother to cancer. Although she never revealed her name, her identity became apparent when she posted mildly risqué photos of herself in a plane, wearing her uniform. She was suspended, then fired. The BBC, USA Today, CNN, and other news outlets carried her story, discussing what right to free speech employees have on their blogs and what guidelines employers can impose. On The Montel Williams Show in 2007, Simonetti advocated for bloggers’ rights, saying that “(1) employers should have clear, unambiguous blogging policies so that employees can foresee the potential for disciplinary action, and (2) the penalty for a first offense should be a formal warning rather than dismissal.” She is currently in court, having sued Delta Airlines for sexual discrimination and retaliation. “Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant” has been published as a book.

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Comments

Fred Williams Sept. 3, 2008 @ 3:58 p.m.

Talk about a "chilling effect".

Can't write now, have to go find and delete every post I've made on www.sdreader.com

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Jephphab Sept. 3, 2008 @ 9:53 p.m.

Wow, thanks to the SD Reader for reminding us that it's 2005. Cutting edge I tell ya.

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a2zresource Sept. 5, 2008 @ 11:04 a.m.

There is a fundamental relationship of employment to slavery.

America is not the place it was in the 50s or even later, when most people could be assured of holding the same job or being promoted within the same company until retirement.

Any employer-interviewer who raises any issue of the interviewee's blogging has just exposed her or his company as the kind of place that employees are itching to discuss with others outside of the control of their employer.

One solution is to be rather good at what one does and become an independent contractor.

Other than that, one should remember that the freedom of speech, press and expression in general applies to the right to mouth off on the Internet, not the price one may have to pay for the contents of one's expression.

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realnews Sept. 6, 2008 @ 9:14 a.m.

Kinda lightweight fare here. Why no antidote for the hand-wringing?

Why no mention of SLAPP attorney Mick Meagher. FamilyLawCourts.com used him after former attorney Ron Lais sued them several times - for outing him as a con artist, here http://www.familylawcourts.com/naming_names.html

Lais is still in prison. FLC retained Meagher, but Lais had to pay Meagher's attorney fees afterward. Worked out for everyone but Lais.

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Josh Board Oct. 1, 2008 @ 1:14 a.m.

Wow, I hadn't seen this story first time around. Interesting.

Nobody can complain about a company doing this to a perspective employee (although, I'd say, it's idiotic for them to tell the employee).

For example, you can no longer call the persons previous employer, to find out what kind of employee they were (too many legal issues).

No better way to find out, then read what they write.

I know, as I blog on this site...and respond to people that respond to my blogs, that ANYTHING I write, can not only be seen by my bosses here (and, I'm technically, representing the company), but any future bosses, future girlfriends, future girlfriends parents, etc.

For someone to blog, or write, and not worry about such things, is just being foolish.

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Fred Williams Oct. 1, 2008 @ 8:16 a.m.

Josh, you're being simplistic.

I write a lot about political issues. But I work in a strictly technical environment.

My paid work is very cut and dry. It has absolutely nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with whether the software and systems function properly and meet the user's goals.

For a company to investigate my political writings and then use them to deny me employment for which I'm highly qualified is something I would complain about. It's discrimination, plain and simple, based on political beliefs.

No, it's not illegal for the company to do this. But I would make it known far and wide that the company is so paranoid and big-brotherish that it creates a hostile workplace, dominated by a requirement to engage in group think. That is not healthy for the employees, the company, or society at large.

Dissent is the cornerstone of our democracy. When we are punished for daring to publish our sometimes unpopular views, it may be legal, but it's not good or wise.

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