This is a mostly-blind item/mostly-hypothetical. Feel free to ignore it.
I wanted to comment on a post. I wrote a clear comment. I looked at its probable implications if read uncharitably. I didn’t submit the comment.
I came back at coffee break. Wrote an even clearer comment. Found that uncharitable reading would again cause problems. Didn’t submit.
And just now, lunch break, wrote a truly eloquent comment. Which would also cause problems if read uncharitably.
I think the idea of reading blog posts and comments charitably is great, in theory. I almost feel bad when I point out that a blogger has directly contradicted themselves between a post and a response to a comment on that post. I suppose a truly charitable reading would be that most blog posts and comments are done so much on the fly that internal consistency is too much to ask even within one stream–but at that point, you get to the level of “well, this is all just talk with no thinking, so why bother?” That’s not true, so there’s a limit on charitable reading. I also know that I’m incapable of reading a blog without taking into account the context of the blogger’s other posts and publications (and real-world persona, if I know it), and I’m pretty sure people do the same for me.
And, of course, my desire to read other posts and comments charitably won’t necessarily be reciprocated.
So, just to get it off my chest, I’ll just say this:
If you sign your blog (and it’s surprising how many pseudonymous blogs wind up “signed” because the blogger gets excited about an achievement or something and posts an identifying page or post), it is not possible to divorce yourself entirely from your place of work.
Period. Can’t be done. Our minds just don’t work that way. (OK, maybe some people can internalize such a work:life split so thoroughly that the connection never occurs to them–but I’ll bet a lot more can’t.)
Worst case: James X, who works for coffee-store magnate S, says something on his blog that really offends Fred Y. James X is clearly writing the blog on his own time and may even have an explicit disclaimer–you know, “Opinions expressed here may not reflect those of S Coffee.” But Fred Y finds the comment so offensive that he says “You know, I’m not going to get coffee at S anymore; they hire people I don’t want to be associated with even indirectly.” He starts going to P’s Coffee instead (or S’s B Coffee, for that matter).
Or, even worse case: Fred Y is a long-time acquaintance of James X’s boss. He may be terribly tempted to call up that boss and say “Are you aware of the idiots you have working for you, and what terrible things they’re saying?”
Maybe even worse than that: S Coffee is actually a membership organization and Fred Y is a member, and Fred Y regards the comment as a personal attack.
But–and it’s a big but–that’s an inappropriate action for Fred Y to take, if Fred Y believes in free speech.
Not free as in “without possible consequences,” but free as in “no advance censorship, and consequences should be rationally related to the speech.”
If James X starts badmouthing customers at S Coffee as customers, it’s entirely appropriate for Fred Y to call his boss–and for James X to wind up Dooced (doncha love jargon?) or, in English, fired for inappropriate online behavior.
But if James X writes negative comments about something that’s not directly related to S Coffee’s business, and those comments aren’t obscene or hate speech, then Fred Y should recognize that James was on his own time and should have the same rights as anyone else.
It’s a hard line, fuzzy, gray, likely to get crossed from time to time. For now, though, I believe it’s the right line to take.
There’s another question: Should James X think about the consequences of some people being able to completely separate his blog and comments from his job? As an employee, I’d say yes. As one possibly offering advice on blogging, I’d say you betcha. As a general ethical call–no, I’m not willing to make that call.
Meanwhile, if I was in a position to make the other kind of call, I’d like to think I wouldn’t. Not that the situation has ever occurred, of course: Then I’d have to put my beliefs into action, never quite so simple.