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"Message Boards", A Commentary

By Brent Flynn

Dallas, TX – During my employment with a dot com, I developed an addiction to internet message boards containing information, gossip, and lies about my employer. It was like a cyber soap opera, with each office's dirty laundry hung online for the whole world to see. My gateway message board was on the Yahoo Finance page. It was there that checking my company's stock price and message board became a daily ritual.

But as internet stock prices dropped, and my frustration grew with the new corporate structure that resulted from my company's acquisition by a larger internet consulting firm, I began searching for a forum with more dirt. The message board was just the fix I was craving. Instead of posts by boring investors, the posts on the Vault were from angry ex-employees, disenfranchised current employees, job seekers, and curious onlookers of the sort you might find at a cockfight. The Vault warranted hourly visits.

The ex-employees were pissed. Ranting about broken promises, and mismanagement, they would even scare off job seekers with office horror stories, and then ridicule them for even considering working there. The posts from current employees were mixed. Some of the posts were heart felt pleas to former co-workers asking them to stop trashing their company online for the sake of those left behind. Others insisted that everything was fine and that the company was on course for profitability. Still others gave specific examples of mismanagement, project by project.

Increasingly, executives from my office were mentioned, followed by a defensive or accusatory response depending on the tone of the original post. This always caused a buzz in the office. It was such a scandal. I began checking the board every half hour. One day, several posts appeared warning of a company wide lay off. Everyone was on edge for a week leading up to Black Friday. Friday came, and just as predicted, 50 employees were laid off. At this point, I was immobilized by my constant visits to the Vault. I was checking the board in the morning before I left for work to see if my termination notice might be announced on the internet. But, when I finally did get the axe, there was no warning.

Now I'm freelancing, but I still visit the Vault occasionally out of habit and morbid curiosity. I'm able to look at the posts more objectively now that I'm gone and I understand why it was against company policy to visit and post messages to these boards.

Knowledge is power. The message boards have the potential to change the source of information flow from corporate headquarters. At the very least, they take the water cooler discussion to a wider online audience, and undermine management's authority. Despite this forum's tendency to degenerate into Jerry Springer-like name calling, more information is a good thing. Had management done a better job of communicating with its employees in the first place, maybe the message boards wouldn't have held the attention of so many for so long. But in the absence of official propaganda, guerrilla propaganda filled the void.

I learned that just as with any medium of discourse, it is up to each individual to sift through the misinformation and lies to uncover the truth on the internet. I also learned that power in the hands of disgruntled internet workers can be addictive, and as entertaining as hell.