Trouble in the Blogosphere

By Matt Seidholz and Harley Brown

Matt’s Story

The Internet has always been my second home. In middle school, it offered a shelter from stressful realities of being a clueless dope, and I pretty much use it in the same way today. In the past, I retreated to read about Pokémon, but these days I do something semi-productive in my cyber seclusion: blogging. My blog,”Fly-Ass Blog,” relates my small, funny life stories. It’s therapeutic and I love getting the occasional compliment about it. All around, it’s definitely my favorite hobby.

The weird isolation from the real world-the “Meat World,” as I prefer to call it-makes blogging great. In the Blogosphere, you’re one of millions on the world’s biggest soap box. It’s hard to get your blog noticed, even harder to get people to read it, and if they did, they would never find out who you are. That anonymity gives you absolute freedom. No one cares about what you say, so you can say whatever you want and are unlikely to suffer consequences in Meat World. Or so I thought.

Last semester I went abroad to London, where I was more or less promised a position at the U.K.-branch of my dad’s company, provided that I perform well in an interview with the boss. Of course, I botched it horribly, didn’t get the job and immediately retreated to the Internet to complain about it. I didn’t think anything would come of it.

Because of my commitment to journalistic principles, I used the real names of everyone and everything involved. GoogleAlerts found my blog post within the hour of my posting it. A company lackey e-mailed it to my father, who sent it to my mother, who sent me a shrieking email that commanded me to explain, “within 24 hours” (an actual quote), “what the fuck” (another actual quote) I was thinking.

Learn from me. Cyber seclusion may seem safe, but the world of scary technology is wielded by nosy corporations. Anonymity has been destroyed and accountability is in a triumphant return. The Meat World and the Blogosphere are more connected than you think.

These cautionary tales present an important lesson. The Internet is treacherous. It feels safe and so good,- but future employers patrol the Internet with sleepless vigilance. Like the tyrant Sauron, their flaming, omniscient eyes scour the Blogosphere for information about you. Don’t attract their attention.

Harley’s Story

I knew something was wrong when my internship supervisor said we needed to have a “chat.” Pulling me into a conference room, she sat me down and told me that her boss had found my blog, “Mo’lasses.”

You know that feeling you get when you forget a really big assignment? Get caught in a lie? Wipe out on the ice in front of the Campus Center? That’s how I felt. Except you expect those things to happen to you. In this case, it never crossed my mind that what I had thrown into the Internet void would just as quickly be thrown back at me. When my supervisor laid a printout of my blog entry in front of me, all I could think was, “This shit actually happens to people?”

After some protracted groveling, I was sent home. A couple of days later, I was fired. “The company decided that the internship wasn’t for you,” my supervisor said over the phone, “I’m sorry that things worked out this way.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said, pouring myself a large glass of wine. “Me too.” Several glasses (fine, a bottle) later, I found myself regaling a large crowd outside of the Tap with my tale of woe. The next morning, I realized that I had graduated from telling everything to everyone online, to telling everything to anyone within earshot.

What I didn’t realize when I wrote that entry was that there exists organizations, like Nielsen BuzzMetrics, whose sole purpose is to track other companies’ names online. Every time I referenced my internship-which I did frequently and with vitriol-my employers received an e-mail informing them of what I had just done. It’s like the purple dye that shows up when you pee in a pool, and as I found out, just as embarrassing.

The upshot? Don’t blog about your job or anything that is at least marginally meaningful to your life. At least I learned that lesson from being “let go” by an unpaid internship that I hated anyway, not from getting axed by my primary source of income. If you really need to tell people how much you loathe your work, vent to your friends. See a therapist. Don’t, for the love of God, broadcast it online.