Monday, May 23, 2005

The Phantom Professor

A lot of the people I know are academics, so this (for those who may have missed it, the title to this blog is the link), found via Hedwig the Owl's site (congrats on the new job, but again!), has been a fascinating read. If you follow this long enough you'll find the article, hyperlinked to in one of the posts, "outting" the phantom, which she seems to have taken graciously. There's no way to know with certainty why she lost her position, which may or may not have been due to her blog, but she does write well and what she had to write about, SMU and what she encountered there, is worth the time to read.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This will be an another interesting topic on your blog! Can't wait to read the article tonight (gotta catch a train later this morning). I know I will be asking you your thoughts on employee/employer blog law though.


7:10 AM  
Blogger James said...

You bring up an interesting point regarding blog law and freedom of speech. Normally the issue of freedom of speech is tied to what a government can do to you, i.e. you can't be stopped from saying what you want to say by being put in jail for saying it. The intention, as I understand it, was to limit the government's ability to dump dissenters into jail. Stretching that to the point where you're allowed to say what you want about your employer seems to go against the grain of the intent of the freedom as granted.

There are two categories of problem with this, as I understand it anyway. First you have those bloggers who're anonymous who dump on an employer they clearly identify. Then there's the blogger, such as the Phantom Professor, who dumps on the employer and the denizens therein without being specific about where she is. I think in either case if the blogger is identified (in which case in both situations the employer is now also identified), the employer has the right to say and act on the sentiment of, "You don't like it here? Well then go somewhere else, and let me help you." Clearly there'd be little argument for this if the person in question were dumping, on a regular basis, about the employer while standing around the water cooler with colleagues and was caught in the act. So I don't see there being a freedom of speech issue here inasmuch as if you don't like your job that doesn't give you cause to dump on it and still expect to be paid by it.

I don't think an employer is entitled to a court order intended to identify an anonymous blogger, at least so long as the blogger isn't providing proprietary information. If I remember correctly Apple was heading down this path against someone who apparently worked for the company who they perceived as dissing Apple --- the same company whose boss banned the entire line of books out of a publishing company which published a biography of said boss that he didn't like; amazing how Jobs acts more like Gates than you'd expect him to.

Let's keep in mind, though, that there's not a clear cut case regarding the Phantom that she was fired because of her blog. On the whole I myself don't see the problem with the blog, nor do I see that what she had did was a violation of anyone's privacy (some of the comments about her at the article focused on this point and I failed to appreciate the legitimacy of that argument.) She was keeping a running journal of her experiences at a university which, I would guess were reflective of quite a few universities. Alas, I can appreciate why many wouldn't like what they read their, but that doesn't change the reality or the truth of the situation --- sometimes the truth just plain sucks, which is no excuse for hiding it, though sometimes decorum dictates that you do --- this wasn't one of those times in my mind.

9:58 AM  

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