I have another blog somewhere out there, a site with my name on it and with copious amounts of information about my own private life. A dangerous amount, in fact. I worked really hard to get people to read it and to notice my efforts. I’ve been putting this graft in for years. In 2010, though, I found that the tables suddenly turned with terrifying consequences. People were finding my site for themselves, and they didn’t always like what they found.
I work in the public sector somewhere in the north-west of England, for an organisation that- a few years back- came under fire quite badly due to muppet employees making a hash of a certain legal case. The organisation had also dealt with serious budget cuts and round after round of redundancies were imposed.
The organisation knew I wanted to be a writer but I’d not really mentioned my blog. I didn’t mention much of anything, as they knew I was under-worked and shouldn’t really have been in the communications office anyway. I didn’t want to distract them from their work. Besides, my skills were elsewhere. I spent most of my work time writing blog entries and short stories, and emailing them to my Hotmail address so I could work on them again at home. Nobody complained, really. But I felt that this absence of work was going to bite me in the arse at some point. In the end, something did- but it wasn’t my work.
One Monday, I rolled into work and my line manager was sat at her desk. She wasn’t normally in ’til Tuesday. Something was wrong. The moment she saw me she dragged me into Peter’s office- a small room for the head of communications, and a place where Peter would normally stay and cower from us all. It was a strange place.
She closed the door behind her. She wasn’t smiling.
“Peter is very concerned,” she stressed, “about something you’ve put on the internet?” Her voice ended upwards, like she was asking me something.
My eyebrows started to raise with each clause of each sentence. This could be fucking anything.
“You have a blog, and in this blog you talk about taking cocaine.”
Oh, that. Shit-your-pants time. How the fuck does she know that?!
“Now I’m not gonna pass judgement on what you do in your private life. It’s none of my business. But it’s the fact that you’ve also mentioned that you work for this organisation and in particular this department. We can’t have that. Now, we’ve just lost a very expensive court case and there are journalists and other people out there who are particularly looking for any little way that they can bring us down. You’ve got to be so careful with the internet these days.”
“I don’t want to cause any problems for the department,” I said. “I’ll take it down.”
We went back to our desks. “Is it on Facebook?” She asked, in front of the marketing team. Shit, I thought. Marketers have intuition. They would have twigged I’d put something conflicting on there.
“Yes,” I said. Because it was. I also ran the same content in four other places. But I didn’t mention that.
She managed to log on and I went into the Live Blog application. I deleted about five entries involving cocaine and ecstasy.
“all sorted,” I said- even though it wasn’t.
“Are you aware of Google Alerts, Matt?” she asked. “You can ask Google to send you reports of whenever anyone on the net uses a specific phrase.”
Fuck, I thought. That means I’ve got my work cut out tonight. I’ve got some editing to do.
I back up my work in a number of different places online so that if I have to remove something, it’s always still there somewhere else. It’s also so that if someone else complains to site administrators to shut my work down, or a virus takes a site down, the content is always still available elsewhere.
The Live Blog application stopped working when Facebook removed the tabs structure a while back. The other sites are still operational- with the coke references included, but not my work information. I learned my lesson.
Or did I? You tell me. I’m not an expert in employment law. Common sense dictates that you don’t go admitting these things online. But did my employer have a right to ask me to take this material down? Can you shed light? I’d love to know, but it wasn’t until I set up this blog that I had a platform to address this issue. Comment below or Tweet me on @PatBatemanBlog.