What happens to corporate blogging policies when a blogger disagrees with the company?
Microsoft is learning about this in real time.
Late last year, Microsoft deleted a blog posted on its MSN Spaces service in China. According to a report in The New York Times:
The site pulled down was a popular one created by Zhao Jing, a well-known blogger with an online pen name, An Ti. Mr. Zhao, 30, also works as a research assistant in the Beijing bureau of The New York Times.
The blog was removed last week from a Microsoft service called MSN Spaces after the blog discussed the firing of the independent-minded editor of The Beijing News, which prompted 100 journalists at the paper to go on strike Dec. 29. It was an unusual show of solidarity for a Chinese news organization in an industry that has complied with tight restrictions on what can be published.
Commentators, including the influential Rebecca MacKinnon, have taken Microsoft to task over this (here is her first post). Ms. MacKinnon notes that Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble has some opinions on this. Here’s the first, then a second, then some rather understandable clarifying.
Microsoft’s view was blogged by Michael Connolly (product manager for MSN Spaces) here.
I’ll resist past temptations and leave the political angle to others (or another day). My focus today is this: have the legion of companies that adopted corporate blogging policies thought through how they will handle an employee-blogger disagreeing with a politically-motivated move by the company?
Some of the companies have an item in their policy along the lines of “stop blogging if we say so.” See #6 here from Feedster.
Mr. Scoble has probably stepped further out on a short pier than most would. This is from his second post:
I have been talking to lots of people today, though, inside and outside of Microsoft. In every instance they asked me to keep those conversations confidential. Why? Cause weâ€™re talking about international relations here and the lives of employees. I wish I could go into it more than that, but I canâ€™t. Not yet. See, itâ€™s real easy as Americans to rattle the door and ask for change, but we donâ€™t live there. Saying â€œgive them the fingerâ€ isnâ€™t that easy when there are real human lives at stake. And I donâ€™t need to spell out what Iâ€™m talking about here, do I?
Many companies were pushed or dragged into encouraging employee blogging for such worthy reasons as “putting a human face on the company” or providing a way current or future customers could learn facts from front-line personnel that weren’t scripted by Madison Avenue. That is fine when the posts are in the vein of “my Company X is doing cool stuff” or “here at Company Y we really care about our customers.” But when Company Z reads an employee blog post saying “We are wrong on this (to become an agent of a government and censor an entire bloggerâ€™s work)” what would most do? What would the legal department recommend? It’s a credit to Mr. Scoble (and maybe even Microsoft) that his first post on this issue is still up.
When technology moves around the world, standard communication systems run smack into divergent political systems faster than ever before. Some companies may start to have second thoughts about employee blogging. I think it’s going to be hard to put that genie back in the bottle.