My Fear no Twitter article from last week received another comment that needs to be expanded upon, both because it’s important for men to know this stuff and also because I’ve got nothing else, baby. From reader Liz:
A few years back there was a military person(my spouse and I knew him very well) who lost his job as a commander for offering information about an airframe online. At the time, his “superiors” were encouraging him (good PR for the airframe, and Congress holds the purse strings). Nothing he said online revealed any information that wasn’t easily available elsewhere, but they decided a few months into his posting that this was an OPSec concern. It made headline news. He was fired in disgrace and all of the leadership (his bosses) who had advised and encouraged him to post online denied they’d done so.
This wasn’t really related to the topic apart from the fact that his blunder happened online. When contemplating the title for this article I wanted to go with, “How not to be a fucking idiot and lose your job”, but various reasons I had to let that one go. Instead, let us examine why you need to get everything in writing.
I replied to Liz with the following:
That’s different. Always, always, always get everything in writing. He should have sent an email to everyone concerned confirming their encouragement into permission and authorisation.
And she said:
Since he was not revealing any secrets, and certainly nothing classified that couldn’t be found elsewhere online, it did not occur to him that he needed any proof of encouragement in writing.
Just to add, he didn’t start a blog, he was posting answers to questions on an aviation related blog. Exactly as one would answer if someone were asking the same questions in person. He never revealed a thing he wasn’t supposed to. You can believe this or not, but I can tell you it made a very big impression on me. A person’s life can be ruined by posting online (particularly non-anonymously). I’m not talking about empty threats (though if one has children that can be very disturbing as well)
His life was ruined because he was a fucking idiot, sorry sorry, I mean he didn’t get it in writing. Let’s take a look at why this is so and why it’s so important for readers to understand this.
First of all, it may be hard to believe but most people at your workplace don’t wish you well all that much. They’re mostly indifferent, which means there is no way in hell that they are going to stick their neck on the line if you fuck up. In addition to that, there are a few people at work who hate your guts or want your job or a combination of both. These individuals will happily set you up for a fall if it is within their power to do so. You can’t watch out for all of these but what you can do is to cover your own butt, (CYOB), and you do that by getting everything in writing.
The key parts to Liz’s story are the following:
At the time, his “superiors” were encouraging him (good PR for the airframe, and Congress holds the purse strings).
Okay, then get it in writing. I know that Liz is saying that it wasn’t secret information, but if it has anything to do with your job then you still get permission, and even more so if your superiors have encouraged you. This just screams set-up to me. I mean, I’m almost embarrassed for the guy because this is really basic stuff that we’re talking about.
All he had to do was to fire off an email, CCing in everyone concerned, along the lines of the following, and please feel free to use it as a template:
Just to confirm our recent conversation regarding posting online the information XXXX, and that you have all acknowledged that this will be good for company XXXX, and that I have explicit permission to do so on XXXX website.
I am not a fucking moron.
After you press send on this email, just sit by your phone for the next 30 seconds. It will then precede to ring. When you answer the phone, one of the email recipients will be on the other end of the line and will be rather agitated. They will express dismay that you would put such a thing in writing. Isn’t their word good enough? Murmur your understanding but hold firm until they officially withdraw your permission to do XYZ.
The other way of looking at posting info online like the guy in the example did is to examine it from two angles. These are:
What are the upsides of me posting this info on line for me personally?
What are the downsides?
After you answer these two questions in writing on your desk then your course will be clear.
Thus endeth the lesson.