WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2005 — -- Heather Armstrong worked as a Web designer for a Los Angeles software company. In February 2001, she started a blog -- a Web log or online journal.
"It's sort of my hobby," she said. "Other people like to play instruments; I like to write online."
No names were used in her blog -- not hers, her co-workers', nor her company's. But she was terminated after company executives were tipped off and read her posts, which included unflattering descriptions of many of them.
"What I was doing was completely benign," Armstrong said. "I never mentioned any trade secrets. I never mentioned the company."
Her Web site is located at dooce.com. Since her termination, some bloggers have taken to calling the act of being fired because of one's Web site being "dooced."
At companies across the country, employees are being fired for Internet postings employers do not like.
It is a new and increasingly prevalent cause for termination. The firings raise a central question: How much anonymity can anyone expect on a portal called the "World Wide" Web?
"Many people don't understand how what they're writing on a blog is not as anonymous as they think it is," said Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group. "They feel like they're having a conversation with friends and family, when they're really having a conversation with anyone who comes by."
Last November, David Pilgreen, posted a message on a chat site frequented by his fellow Kmart employees. Hoping to rebut rumors of lackluster Thanksgiving weekend sales, Pilgreen -- who worked at one of the retailer's distribution centers -- posted positive, but internal, sales information.
"I never meant to harm Kmart or cause them any trouble," he said.
His bosses already knew Pilgreen's screen name, "DeepPerple." DeepPerple was immediately in deep trouble, fired after 16 years.
In a written statement, Kmart said that "as with all Company communications, confidential information should not be divulged to outside parties."
But employers can be very sensitive to the kind of information employees share -- even if it's not directly related to the job.
Jessica Cutler, who formerly worked as a lowly staffer for Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, shared no private office information on her now-notorious blog. On Washingtonienne.com, she instead posted very detailed information about her sex life, some of which involved alleged trysts with high-profile politicians.
"I deserved to be fired for that," Cutler said. "I took a risk by posting that stuff on the Web in the first place."
Cutler can afford to take responsibility for her actions. The mini-scandal and her writing landed her a six-figure book deal.