Building an acceptable use policy for blogging can be one of the tougher jobs for a company’s human resources and internal security divisions to develop. Blogging is a rapidly growing mode of communication that provides readers with material on everything from the day-to-day comments of authors, movie stars, characters on soap operas to hard-hitting news articles and columns. The growth of blogging has given rise to a multitude of programs and tools designed to help everyone from the personal blogger to corporate users.
But how does blogging affect an organization’s Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP)? In order to address blogging accurately in an AUP, you must first define what constitutes a blog. The word “blog” is actually a shortened version of “web log” and is similar to a message board in that one can post thoughts and opinions to be read by others. A blog can be viewed by the public or accessible only via password depending on how the owners have set it up. Blogs can provide in-depth information about specific topics or they can be a place for writers to vent their feelings, but their ultimate goal is to bring readers together and then encourage interaction among them.
Blogging can be a harmless and interesting way to communicate with like-minded others but, like any unmanaged activity, the opportunity for abuse is always there. If an organization’s AUP addresses their Instant Messaging, Peer-to-Peer, email and other Web-based communications, they need to consider blogging as an important technology to include. Organizations should decide of they want their employees to be able to read blogs or post to them as part of an overall communications policy.
What are the ramifications of no AUP where blogs are concerned? The rapid growth rate of blogs in the country means that entire services like MyFamily.com and MyPlace.com are hosting communities of bloggers. A criminal utilized personal data posted in some blogs to stalk and attack young high-school girls.
Employees that post their identities and information to a response on a blog can influence decisions. For example, if an employee of a major computer corporation responded to a technical blog with advice about avoiding a new product line because of a lot of known ‘bugs’ the company is leaving itself open to legal exposure. Corporations require employees to sign non-disclosure agreements for a reason, the threat of exposure where company confidential information and intellectual property is concerned could have devastating financial consequences.
This is only one example, there are many others. If a person severely disagrees with the content of a blog and starts what is known as a ‘flame’ war with the blogger through the comments section, the corporation may be held liable for the harassment if the employee is posting the responses through the corporation’s computers. What happens on company computers, whether permissible or not, is the responsibility of the company. They are considered legally culpable.
There are legal and financial reasons to be very clear in the AUP with regards to blogging. Some corporations, although only a small percentage, employ software that screens where and how an employee can browse the web. If there are filters preventing an employee from viewing a pornographic website, then there can be filters that prevent the viewing of political or day trading blogs. Blogs that focus on financial and business issues are growing more popular every day. These blogs may be a source of entertainment and information, but it is up to the corporation to decide the level of involvement that an employee may have.
It’s worth mentioning that anonymous guests can read most blogs, although they may not be able to post comments or responses. Blogs can be enormous resources for students, educators and other individuals for discussion, debate and the sharing of experiences. However, they need to be controlled and monitored. Blogs are an excellent marketing tool, hooking visitors into the site by providing them with financial advice or credit building tips, for example. The marketing a blog can provide can translate into tens of thousands of hits a day for a site. It’s also important for some companies to get their message out there; blogs can put a human face on a company that seems only to be a corporate entity. That human face can improve customer relations, invite consumer contact and increase company visibility. However, employees should be educated about the type of information they are allowed to post if they are allowed to respond.
Companies that maintain their own blogs should be particularly attuned to the commentary they generate. Blogging is a new frontier for the corporate world, but as with many prior innovations, they are quickly taking advantage of it. Security, awareness and education will help corporations, employees and even their families from suffering negative experiences while blogging, reading blogs or responding to a blog on the Internet.