“Google fires blogger!” and the evils of gossip and innuendo

An interesting bit of synergy: I was interviewed by WIRED magazine this afternoon for an article about confidentiality and blogging, and not thirty minutes later I’m spinning through my NewsGator subscription list and find not one, but three different sites blogging about how Google’s Mark Jen might or might not have been fired from his position at Google.
Mark came into the blogosphere eye a few weeks ago when Google apparently asked him to pull down his “life at Google” blog where he shared his musings (and kvetching) about what it was like to be a Google employee after having just started working there a few days. The weblog reappeared, without much explanation of what happened.

Here’s the problem, fellow bloggers: the more that the blogosphere is a digital picket fence where we share gossip, innuendo and rumors, the less credible it will seem and the more it’ll end up being like some sort of distributed rumor mill of the worst sort.
As we tell my children, if you don’t have anything nice to say, if you don’t know what you’re saying is true, keep it to yourself so that it doesn’t harm anyone or make them feel bad.
The third prong of coincidence: last night I watched the remarkable 50’s film Peyton Place, where the pain and hurt of a town full of mean-hearted gossips ruins the lives of a number of young men and women during the early 1940’s. In many ways, Peyton Place set the standard from which all modern soap operas and adult dramas are woven, but the main subtext of the film was that if you aren’t 100% sure, if you don’t know something for a fact, if it’s just innuendo and gossip, don’t share it or disseminate it further.
Contrast that with highly respected blogging colleague Robert Scoble who has posted on his own Weblog the following (quoted in its entirety):

Did Google fire a blogger?
Hmm, it’s going around the blogosphere that Google fired a blogger. I don’t know if this is true. Can anyone confirm?

If you don’t know if it’s true, why mention it, Robert? And it’s not just you, either. Search Engine Lowdown,Search Engine Watch, Inside Google, and Company Blogs were all busy spreading this innuendo too.
I think that for bloggers to be a long-term force for good and a useful alternative to mainstream media, we are all going to have to decide what it means to blog, what it means to have a voice, reach and influence, and decide how we want to utilize that power – however large or small – to help make the world a better place.
Lofty goals, but when the worst kind of unsubstantiated gossip flies around the blogosphere, I tend to react in a diametrically opposed fashion.

5 comments on ““Google fires blogger!” and the evils of gossip and innuendo

  1. Agreed, when a popular blogger makes a post like this, it is sort of like a newspaper (many hold just as much credibility) running a headline, “US Launches Nuclear Weapon?” Only to find out that some obscure group claimed this, so it must be true, right?
    Over the last few years I have had my fill of newspapers and news websites running shock headlines, not unlike what the Drudge Report does. It must have been a slow blogging day. 😉

  2. Innuendo, Dave? If anyone is spreading that, you seem to be with this post. But OK, nice shock tactic, and I’ll bite this time with a response.
    I never said he was fired at Search Engine Watch, not until today in a new post when we had confirmation of that.
    In yesterday’s post, I didn’t say “fired” in my headline nor my lead. What I did say was that there was a rumor he was no longer with Google and that Google confirmed that specifically and directly to me that this was true but wouldn’t say why. I also didn’t post until I actually spoke with Google about this. I’d have tried to speak with Jen if he posted any easily available contact details on his blog. He does not. So, where was the innuendo in that?
    Why even bother with the Jen story at all? Because it was a valid story. Google employees criticizing Google? We’ve not really had that before, not for the company that seemingly can do no wrong to some. That was well worth a mention, and Google Blogoscope was well deserved in spotting it originally.
    Even bigger story when Google comes along and convinces Jen to drop material from the site. Regardless of where you stand on that action — and the later firing (which we now know was a firing) — this was a first time event for Google, a company highly in the public spotlight for trying to have a nice, warm feeling for employees to be.
    We’ve had stories about the great free lunches at Google for workers for literally years. Now you’ve got an employee saying those lunches are more for Google’s benefit that the employees? Please, not mention that type of turnabout. That type of public reflection from a Google employee is very notable.
    Geez. Go back to his blog. “This is a blog of my personal experience as a new google employee,” he tells you.
    What, do you honestly think he was blogging these experiences and thinking no one would notice or be interested. If that was the point, why did he start the blog? And why did he specifically call it “Life @ Google From The Inside?” And why would anyone be critical of the fact that when things he wrote were noticed, they got reported on?
    This all comes especially at a time when we are constantly having drummed into our heads that blogs are a big huge source for generating news these days.
    If there’s rumor out there, you can put a big chunk of the blame on Jen himself. Why did he leave Google? His actual readers don’t know directly. Apparently, that part of Life @ Google isn’t something he wants to blog. I’m sure that if there was some type of settlement with leaving Google, it didn’t preclude him from saying on his own direct forum to the world that he left.

  3. It really doesn’t matter, Danny was right…Google did fire a blogger…maybe not necessarily because he blogged, but Danny didn’t say that did he?
    Of course since it was a rumor it could have gone either way. About 50-50 I’d say.

  4. Danny didn’t say that, but Robert certainly did, as I mention in my original article. I mean, that’s a terrible justification for innuendo, isn’t it? I going to spread a rumor that you’ve being audited by the IRS, Steven, and maybe it’ll prove to be right…
    Y’see, I don’t really care whether Mark Jen was right or not, or whether he was fired or not for this discussion. What I’m asking is whether it’s reasonable for bloggers to want to both be able to spread rumors and innuendo without substantiating the facts AND to seek more credibility as legitimate journalists / reporters of news and events?

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