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Another Blog-related Firing

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Freshly Unemployed: Blogger Michael Hanscom joined the ranks of the unemployed on Monday, because Microsoft Security objected to his blog entry Even Microsoft wants G5s.

The blog entry had a picture of a truck delivering some boxed Apple G5 computers and mentioned where Hanscom worked and what building it was in.

His manager told him that “Microsoft has the right to decide that because of what you said, you’re no longer welcome on the Microsoft campus.”

I agree with Hanscom that the post is pretty innocuous. As a Microsoft customer buying software for MacOS computers, I’d be really annoyed if they weren’t testing them on the latest and greatest Macs. Especially since Virtual PC doesn’t run on G5s yet.

Microsoft employee and corporate blog evangelist Robert Scoble says Microsoft encourages employees to weblog. Microsoft has been, in recent months, ahead of the corporate culture curve with respect to blogging. It’s my hope that this is a mistake or the result of one branch of the company not knowing what other branches are encouraging. Even if Hanscom shouldn’t have posted this picture, this solidly moves Microsoft into the “mixed message” category on blogging, which while not great, is still better than many companies.

I’ve contacted some Microsoft bloggers for comment. If I get any replies, official or unofficial, I will post them here.

Cross-posted to Ones and Zeros

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  • Well, don’t be a dumbass and post unflattering things about your employer. I spew a lot of things about my company (The World’s Most Boring Internet Company) at Cap’n Ken’s Homespun Wisdom but I never identify the company.

    It’s a bad idea to be heard badmouthing your company (assuming you want to continue working there) and just plain stupid to write bad things in a blog where you and the company are identified.

  • Um, did you read the offending blog post? It wasn’t unflattering, especially considering that Microsoft is one of the biggest MacOS developers in business.

  • After reading the posts, it appears that he wasn’t an employee of Microsoft, or even technically of MSCopy, a company that shares a building and loading dock with Microsoft. Rather, he was a temp employee on site at MSCopy, a company which does business with Microsoft.

    That doesn’t necessarily make this cool, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t so directly hypocritical as it might seem at first. The objects were security-related, and while I think they’re overwrought, it should be noted that there is information in the post for me to now know exactly where I can find more than a dozen PowerMac G5s, and security obviously isn’t that tight there…

  • It’s the employer’s call on what is “unflattering” or not. If you, as an employee, write anything about the company you are incurring the risk that the company might not like it. And if you work in an employee-at-will job, they can dismiss you if they don’t like it.

    It’s not any different than getting fired for other types of “inappropriate” behavior. It’s all in the judgment of the company.

    If you don’t like that, quit.

  • Ken,

    All true. If you work at an employee-at-will job, you can be released for almost any reason.

    As I said, I think in general, Microsoft is way ahead of other companies on their reaction to bloggers.

    Ken, did you, personally, think that post he made was inappropriate or unflattering? Did you think it was a security breach worth firing someone over to reveal that MS received a delivery of Macintosh computers at their shipping and receiving building, which coincidentally also houses the MSCopy facility?

    I’m not saying it was a good choice on his part. I do think it was an overreaction on the part of Microsoft and I think it’s probably worth noting here, as many of us are bloggers who might comment on our work. Some of us might need the reminder.

    Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the firing, I think it will be interesting to see if there is any effect on high-profile MS bloggers, of whom there are several.

  • Personally, I didn’t think it was too unflattering, but I could see how some within the Microsoft empire wouldn’t like employees posting photos of the company receiving Mac machines.

    But the only opinion that matters is the companies. And that’s my point – people have to understand this and not take the chance that what they say or write will be seen as unflattering to the company.

    There is no “free speech” right at your job, unless you’re in a union, I suppose.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thoughts: “campus” – hah, “visual irony” and “Microsoft” are not terms that blend well. On the other hand, I might not put up a picture of Plain Dealer employees unloading copies of the Free Times on my Cleve-Blog. Sometimes judgment must trump our funnybone.

  • Taloran

    The lesson of this story is not to write anything bad about your current employer that might be seen by higher-ups. Write it on your home computer, and blast ’em once you’ve moved on. 😉

    Surprisingly, I have no complaints worth mentioning about my current job. The last one, though… I could go on for days.

  • I am going to repeat the advice I gave months ago when I wrote about the trend of disciplining or firing journalists who blog. In fact, I’ll extend it to other fields. Keep the blogging and your work separate. The interests at issue are quite different. Even if an employer gives an initial approval, I don’t believe it should be relied on. The minute you say something that someone at work doesn’t like, the approval is likely to be withdrawn. In addition, knowing your employer is looking over your shoulder is likely to chill what you say on your blog. I recommend simply not mentioning blogging if you use your real name and being circumspect even if using a pen name.

    Does a fired blogger have a legal leg to stand on? In most cases, no. Most employees are at will. Since firing someone for blogging violates no constitutionally protected rights for a private employer, the employee is the vulnerable one.

  • Enrico Fermi

    The point to all this isn’t whether Microsoft has the _right_ to fire the guy. It’s whether Microsoft _ought_ to have done this. They’re frankly, looking like Scrooge asking “Are there no workhouses?”.

    Also, as a free citizen, I have a right to not buy anything from Microsoft if I don’t want to. And I’m certainly not going to support them if they’re being that callous. And as for their technology, well, as they say, if Microsoft built vacuum cleaners, they would be their only product that doesn’t suck…