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November 16, 2005

EFF and Bloggers


Cory Doctorow sent along word that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is starting a fundraising campaign today for the purpose of defending the rights of bloggers to basically say whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want to say it, and naturally enough, I can get behind that. I have to say I am personally confused as to why free speech is an issue for bloggers, particularly here in the US, and I'm also deeply amused and annoyed regarding the fiction that bloggers can't be journalists, or whatever nonsense people are trying to promulgate on that score. Being that I regularly write for print newspapers and magazines (and even do verifiable journalism for them from time to time), I suppose I'm better insulated from that particular sort of stupidity, since I can easily point to thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and then tell whatever person is of the mind I couldn't be a journalist in a Web space to kiss my ass. And as for my free speech online, I know my rights under the Constitution of the United States and I'm not shy about exercising them.

However, just because I know my rights doesn't mean others do, or that they won't try to curtail them if at all possible, usually with a phalanx of lawyers to shovel paper about in an intimidating fashion. Also, not everyone lives in the United States and has that little philosophical gem of human liberty known as the First Amendment guarding their back. And this is where folks like the EFF come in: The organization is focused on rights online, and for bloggers this means both informing bloggers about their rights, and in defending those rights when necessary. This makes them a useful organization to have around.

Cory's note reminds me that I've been planning to contribute to the EFF for some time now; I think I'll do that today (I'll go for the $65 contribution because it comes with a t-shirt, and I need another one of those). The EFF is trying to encourage bloggers to link to the fundraising drive by offering premiums and whatnot for the bloggers who get the most people to sign up, but, you know, I couldn't really give a rat's ass about that. However, I would ask you to look at the EFF's spiel here, and if the group and its work are something you think you can support, go ahead and support it. Which is to say, contribute to the EFF if you feel it's worth doing rather than to get your favorite blogger some useless tchochtke. If you contribute (or if you can't contribute but support EFF and its goals), you can also put up a badge, which you may find here. I've gone ahead and put one up here through the end of the month.

That's my pitch to you for today. I end on an existential query: Cory's a friend and fellow blogger, but he's also the European Affairs Coordinator for Electronic Frontier Foundation, which presents the question -- does this mean the Blogosphere is part of Europe? If so, I want some euros.

Posted by john at November 16, 2005 12:08 AM

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Comments

RooK | November 16, 2005 03:56 AM

Woo - I had to use a dictionary there. By the way, you spelled tchotchke wrong.

I wonder if they address the issue of where the writer is versus where the server is hosting the blog, with respect to international differences in free speech... [browse browse browse]

Kevin | November 16, 2005 10:01 AM

The only blogging free speech issues I've heard of recently (and while I don't have my proverbial thumb on the pulse of blogdom I read people who do) is the issue of colleges limiting what students can put in their blogs. Does the owner of the server have any rights as to what content is placed on their servers?

John Scalzi | November 16, 2005 10:06 AM

If the owner of the server is a private entity, sure. If the server were run by a state university of some sort, there would probably be free speech issues.

John H | November 16, 2005 11:12 AM

Tchotchke - wasn't that the bozo Joanie was in love with?

Mart | November 16, 2005 04:58 PM

Kevin --

While it's not a free speech issue per se, there have been many instances of people being fired from their jobs based on what they wrote in their blogs.

If your boss googles your name and comes across your blog, you can rest assured he'll become a regular reader -- and if you proceed to call him a fat-headed bozo or you mention that Trish in Accounting has an ass you'd just love to violate, there's a good chance you'll be fired for it.

Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences.

Martin McCallion | November 17, 2005 09:35 AM

Rather, Europe is part of the blogosphere.

Martin (in London, UK, Europe, The World...)

Kevin | November 17, 2005 11:07 AM

Mart,

Why should the government protect stupid people? If you call your boss an idiot on a public forum you shouldn't be any more surprised she found out about it than if you shouted it out in the lunch room, the same for sexual harrasement. I just am not comfortable making laws less strict because people don't understand the tools they are using.

jennie | November 17, 2005 08:17 PM

Why should the government protect stupid people? If you call your boss an idiot on a public forum you shouldn't be any more surprised she found out about it than if you shouted it out in the lunch room

Hi Kevin.

De-lurking to defend the stupid people, because, well, I'm apparently one of them.


I don't wish to turn this into yet another round of "People who criticise their employers in public deserve to be fired!" "But that violates their freedom of speech!" (You can read the various nanny posts, the google incident, or any number of other comment threads for that). I do wish to point out that one can lose one's job over material posted anonymously that had nothing whatsoever to do with one's work, and that once one is unemployed, one may not have the financial resources to engage a lawyer.

One should not be able to be fired because one dissed one's employer in a pub, among friends, after a difficult day.

One should have some recourse if one's employer finds details of one's personal life (having nothing to do with one's work), and one loses one's job in consequence. Freedom to express one's opinion, and to live one's life and discuss it in public are pretty basic.

(Oh, and I never said anything about my boss on my blog that I hadn't said to his face, previously.)

I apologise for de-railing the conversation. Being called stupid gets up my nose, a bit.

Kevin | November 18, 2005 11:09 AM

Jennie,

A blog is not a couple of friends talking at the local pub where you have an expectation of privacy. Metaphores are dangerous things and thinking that a blog is a diary, or a watering hole, or anything other than mass media with a potential global audience is part of the problem. If you are not in a union you can indeed be fired for bad mouthing your boss, even if you did so anonymously and she figured out you were the only one who could have done it. The sheild of anonymity is only effective if no one can figure out who you are.

If you live your life in your blog and share things that your employer may find fireable you shouldn't be surprised if you get fired. Freedom of Speech doesn't mean freedom from responsibility. It is an entirely different situation if your employer is spying on you or invading your privacy to find something to fire you over.

Perhaps stupid was a bit strong, my thinking at the time was that it is stupid for someone to embarrass their employer in public and then expect the government to save their job when there turns out to be unfortunate consequences to their speech. I'm still not seeing what freedom of speech issues are involved with blogs that aren't covered by existing laws covering other mass media.

jennie | November 21, 2005 08:52 PM

Kevin,

Things that one's employer may find fire-able and things that are legally fire-able may not be the same thing.

Let us posit, for a moment, that I work in insurance, and my employer believes that any woman who has children is too stupid to work (my former employer didn't, but I had a friend who did. My former employer had other odd beliefs). Let's posit, too that my employer makes a practice of hiring young professionals, and giving them more responsibility faster than they'll get it anyplace else. I am not going to talk about my children at work. It's illegal for my employer to ask me in my job interview whether I have children (at least where I live it is. I don't know about the US). I may have blog in which I post pictures of my kids along with reviews of books and discussions of insurance law.

My boss, while putzing around on the net may find my latest discussion of insurance law (a nice, generic discussion, not mentioning my company at all). He may recognise my writing style. He may scroll down and see photos of my children, and send me the link in an e-mail.

I may know that my boss will not actually fire me for having children. But he'll make my life difficult, because suddenly he believes I'm too stupid to do my job, and eventually I'll get fired or I'll resign because I just can't take the crap any more.

So when I talk to the lawyers, they get all weird and tell me that I can't demonstrate that anything actionable has taken place. And if I want to prosecute, it'll cost a lot. Only I don't have a lot of money because I was still pretty junior and the company was small and I worked there for the challenge, not the salary, and I'm now unemployed.

Nothing the hypothetical me did violated any terms of employment. If I wasn't bringing my kids to work, having them at home, and balancing the demands of my family and my job should have been my business. I shouldn't have had to live in fear of someone noticing us all out shopping, or caught on local TV, or in fear that my employer would notice them on my blog.

(I don't have kids, actually. And I don't work in insurance. I'm not sharing the true details here, but it was pretty much like that. And I can't afford a lawyer. I did find another job, even if I don't like it nearly as much as I liked the old one, the boss's vagaries notwithstanding.)

charlie | November 30, 2005 12:18 AM

you just seem to want a nice cushy existence where the whole world makes some dumb law so that you don't have to deal with the same crap as everyone else. You don't look so stupid, although I have been wrong about this before, so show some backbone and stand up. I agree that people act like total arrogant jackasses, but the government isn't there to make a billion stupid little laws ensuring a person who hates kids can't fire anyone. I'm sure the intention would be good, but I'd rather have to find another job than have a government like that. But then, I'm a yank (American) and I would rather be hard up and free than sucking the teet of any government. Whatever.

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