• August 21, 2014

Conference Humiliation: They're Tweeting Behind Your Back

Tweckle (twek'ul) vt. to abuse a speaker only to Twitter followers in the audience while he/she is speaking.

Conference speakers beware: Twecklers are watching.

They're out for blood.

And you may be their next victim.

Once upon a time, conference goers could do little more than passively fork their cheesecake when a snooze-inducing keynote speaker took the podium. No longer. The microblogging service Twitter is changing a staple of academic life from a one-way presentation into a real-time conversation. Flub a talk badly enough and you now risk mobilizing a scrum of digital-spitball-slinging snark-masters. This is from a higher-education conference in Milwaukee:

  • we need a tshirt, "I survived the keynote disaster of 09"

The Twitter "back channel" can be a powerful tool to quickly knit a gathering of strangers into an online community, a place where attendees at meetings broadcast bits of sessions, share extra information such as links, and arrange social events. But the same technology can also enable a "virtual lynching." That's the phrase one twitster used to describe what happened at last month's HighEdWeb Association conference, an event that has gone down in social-media history as perhaps the most brutal abuse of the back channel yet.

The setting was a midday keynote speech before some 400 college professionals in Milwaukee. The presenter was David Galper of the now-defunct online music service for college students, Ruckus Network. The Twitter reaction as he spoke included the T-shirt suggestion, and continued:

  • it's awesome in the "I don't want to turn away from the accident because I might see a severed head" way

  • Too bad they took my utensils away w/ my plate. I could have jammed the butter knife into my temple.

Perfect conditions propelled this Twitter torrent: a speaker who delivered what was apparently a technically flawed and topically dated talk to a crowd of Web experts who expected better. They reacted by flaying him with more than 500 tweets in one hour. The onslaught grew so large that it went viral—live. The conference became one of the most popular topics on Twitter, meaning strangers with no connection to the meeting gaped at Mr. Galper's humiliation when they logged onto their home pages. One consultant who coaches academics on public speaking now uses the disaster as a what-to-avoid case study.

And it all started at 11:59 a.m. with one measly, harmless, innocent tweet, a dig at Mr. Galper's hard-to-read PowerPoint slide: hella drop shadow.

"You just start down the slippery-slope mentality," says Michael P. Fienen, Web marketing manager for Pittsburg State University, in Kansas, who was ferociously egged on by the zap-Galper twitmob—@fienen! @fienen! @fienen!—and now admits he may have gone too far. “Twitter makes it very slippery and very steep.”

The Great Galper Fiasco blitzed the blogosphere, but other examples of less dramatic Twitter rudeness and goofing now surface regularly.

Take the recent National Association of Science Writers meeting in Texas, where the trigger was a tweet about a Purdue University climate researcher’s black-on-black Nehru jacket. One listener followed with a question about who was cuter, Kevin R. Gurney, the speaker, or Virgil Griffith, a California Institute of Technology graduate student who gained fame for developing an online tool to catch self-interested parties polishing their own Wikipedia entries. The Twitter back-channel conversation degenerated from discussing carbon emissions to evaluating “studmuffins.”

  • I’d have to say Virgil. But I wouldn’t kick either of them out of bed, so to speak.

  • Gurney. Virgil’s prac underage!

  • 10 yrs. ago, Karen produced calendars with male scientists in sexy poses (none w/less than speedo on) ran out of talent.

The twitiquette continues to evolve, as people experiment with different strategies to handle the back channel.

One conference tried to squelch it by publishing social-media “courtesy” guidelines in the program: Don’t post during talks. Don’t “oversimplify” speakers’ remarks. Don’t make personal comments.

Some fight back by publicly calling out twecklers. That’s the approach Jonathan P. Bacon took in response to impatient audience members who grumbled about being forced to listen to “boring old men receiving an award” during a ceremony that preceded Lawrence Lessig’s keynote at this month’s Educause conference.

“It’s a little bit like talking while somebody else is talking,” says Mr. Bacon, director of the educational technology center at Johnson County Community College, in Kansas. “People need to be polite about the tweets and the chatter that go on in the back channel. I think people forget that what they say goes to a larger audience.”

Others suggest embracing the back channel by monitoring it during presentations. Some conferences actually broadcast the Twitter feed on a screen as the speaker talks, which has two advantages. Speakers can use it to interact with the audience and take questions. And the audience is less likely to step out of line if the feed is running in the room for all to see rather than hidden in the snarky glow of a private laptop screen.

Purdue University has produced a technology that makes tracking the feed even easier. Called Need4Feed, it displays the most popular tweets at conferences. Steven W. Tally, a strategic marketing consultant at the university, points out that people are accustomed to commenting about articles they read online. Now they want to comment in real time about speakers, too.

“We’re going to have to get used to the fact that you’re not speaking to a group now—you’re really leading a conversation,” Mr. Tally says. “And if you’re not listening to the other people who are participating in that conversation, it’s not going to have a good outcome for you.”

You may even end up on a T-shirt.

By 1:34 p.m. on the day of Mr. Galper’s twit-slaughter, someone had already visited the Web site CafePress, mocked up a shirt called “Twitter Disaster,” and shared it with the conference. Its message: “I Survived The #heweb09 Keynote.”

Comments

1. sin831 - November 17, 2009 at 08:38 pm

Poor David Galper, I wonder how he felt when he discovered this happened lol!

2. panacea - November 17, 2009 at 09:54 pm

Hmm. I used to sign uncomplimentary remarks under the table when stuck in similar snore situations. Fortunately, if anyone saw what I was up to, they either didn't understand or weren't in line of sight.

I'm sure there were a few giggles during this twitravesty, which is probably how the word got out.

3. suzannewayne - November 18, 2009 at 05:49 am

Hmm

I have attended this conference in the past, and have even presented there (in a session, not as keynote.)

I wonder how hard it will be for the conference committee to get keynote presenters in the future.

I wonder if people will think twice before submitting a presentation proposal - I know I will.


4. georgy - November 18, 2009 at 07:29 am

I think the #heweb09 keynote (I was not there, though I followed online) was an exceptional event, and I would hope it would not discourage people from attending or presenting at this conference. Every other backchannel I have followed at a higher ed web marketing conference -- including other #heweb keynotes and sessions -- have been not only civil, but positive and enriching, though not without constructive criticism if warranted. Just like any community of discussion around a topic should be.

Overall, I have found the Twitter-based community of higher ed web marketers to be one of the most supportive, encouraging and positive collections of practitioners I have ever encountered. What doesn't get told is how this is the same group of people that banded together at the conference to buy a new laptop when someone had theirs stolen. They're not just a bunch of snarktards.

I think what happened in Milwaukee was an instance of mutual disrespect. The speaker did not respect the experience/knowledge of his audience (or, arguably, the prevailing common sense of the field itself), and thus the audience did not respect the speaker's time or message. You can argue about whether it went too far or what was right or wrong, but I don't think David Galper is blameless in this, or undeserving of some degree of criticism.

5. 22228715 - November 18, 2009 at 07:38 am

I wonder if there is a cultural component here, making this particular topic at this particular conference in this particular subspecialty at this particular time a perfect storm. Academe can be a brutal culture, and tech geeks seem to be a particularly snarky and sarcastic group (whether anonymous or not). I wonder if there are other sub-disciplines that might be more likely to partaking in this kind of mobbing?

6. dank48 - November 18, 2009 at 08:31 am

Do I understand this correctly? These are "educators"? "Teachers"?

I can't imagine what on earth they could possibly teach that any sane person would want to learn.

7. morges22 - November 18, 2009 at 08:41 am

Why would Marc Parry add to this presenter's humiliation by naming him and the particular conference at which he presented in this Chronicle article? This seemed the biggest spitball of them all. Shame on Mr. Parry and his editors.

8. barrydahl - November 18, 2009 at 09:07 am

The main impact of the Twitter backchannel will be an improvement over time in the quality of the presentations at conferences like this. I've experienced this several times. The Twitterverse is highly complimentary when such compliments are earned, and they are critical when the criticism is earned. How exactly is that a bad thing?

The pressure is on conference organizers and keynote speakers - choose the speakers wisely and the speakers had better be prepared (and engaging as well). This is part of a quality improvement movement, and I'm all for it.

9. mackensen - November 18, 2009 at 09:30 am

One attendee attempted some analysis of the tweets: http://futureendeavour.blogspot.com/2009/10/highedweb-great-keynote-revolt-of-2009.html. His findings confirm my own recollection (I was there). Given the presentation, it's all the more remarkable that no one actually stood up and said something.

10. demery1 - November 18, 2009 at 09:38 am

I am sure each of these twitter practitioners both allow and encourage students to offer sexual innuendo as running commentary as they present in class. After all, Barrydahl suggests such criticisms are earned.

All scholarly organizations should select keynotes based upon an audience's sense of presenters sexual attractiveness. What else is the life of the mind?

11. exdpassword - November 18, 2009 at 09:48 am

Online community? I think not - the electronic "Pack" formed and attacked. Cowardly, cruel, Tweeters are hastening our rapidly declining social and moral standards and turning us into hateful boors. Hey, Tweeters: we've all been subjected to boring speakers, but we survived with class and dignity; we didn't go whining and sniping to strangers about it.
It was totally irresponsible of the author to name this poor speaker by name. Poor guy! Why would anyone ever agree to be a public speaker anywhere, with the expectation of electonic ridicule?

12. davi2665 - November 18, 2009 at 10:37 am

It appears that the nasty, vicious, backstabbing academic culture has reached a new low with the pack mentality of tweeters who vilify a speaker contemporaneously. Have intolerance and incivility reached the point where humiliating and attacking a speaker who does not "respect" their time and expectations has become a new sport? I guess common decency and polite behavior fall to the wayside in the presence of the towering intellect of the elite and sarcastic critics who know it all.

13. joelgoodman - November 18, 2009 at 10:51 am

@dank48 - No, we are web professionals, administration. We are responsible for making sure our institutions are current and innovative in the ways we use the web.

Basically, you get a bunch of overworked, underpaid code monkeys together in a room with a keynote speaker giving a presentation from 2003 and you're going to get a backlash like this. You all attend conferences and know the cost involved in going one, and the expectation is that your speaker will come prepared, informed and relevant.

The tone here might be all against the attendees, but it was the speaker - supposedly a professional communicator, seeing as he was paid to give a keynote address - who did not fulfill his end of the bargain.

You may be anti-snark in this case, but that just shows an unwillingness to accept that the Internet has changed the way one needs to prepare. There will be a revolt on Twitter, so take responsibility for yourself. It doesn't do any good to condemn your audience. Fix your own communicatory issues to prevent being humiliated in that way. In this case, Galper brought it on himself.

By the way, we in HighEdWeb are quick to praise (publicly and on twitter) anyone who has an insight and does a good job. Live up to expectations, or -- *gasp* -- exceed them, and we'll love you.

14. tsand - November 18, 2009 at 10:55 am

Title FAIL: "Conference Humiliation..."

Was David Galper humiliated? Maybe he was enlightened by the backchannel chatter. We'll never know until someone asks him, missed opportunity, Marc? Or followup article?

15. suzannewayne - November 18, 2009 at 11:00 am

I have read the various blogs and reflections from those who witnessed the keynote and participated in the backchannel discussion.

They all seem to defend their actions by saying, "You had to be there."

The reality is that we weren't. And that moment in time cannot be recaptured.

Perhaps at the time and in the place of that keynote presentation, the comments were appropriate. (I can hardly imagine they were, but I personally prefer professional courtesy over cruel honesty.)

But those comments now live outside of the context of the presentation. And at this point reflect poorly only on those who participated in the conversation and to a larger extent, the conference itself.

Sorry, but that is the nature of the Web. Everything you do and say is archived, usually out of context. And it can come back to haunt you.

16. dvlubitz - November 18, 2009 at 11:06 am

In short: if there are any guts left in us, why not get up and blast away publically? Or are we experts only in preaching honorable conduct, ethics, and morals, but practice nothing but not even exceedingly witty twitting grunts?

17. sciencelibrarian - November 18, 2009 at 11:40 am

I read the transcript of the back-channel talk. Sure the presentation may have been dated and generally awful, but I can't see that all the twittering added anything constructive. It was childish. Another thing that twitterers might want to consider is that when you defame someone via twitter you are doing so publicly, and could be opening yourself up to a lawsuit.

18. wnalyd - November 18, 2009 at 11:53 am

So to summarize suzannewayne's line of thinking, don't say anything online. Ever. EVER. RUN, CHILDREN! FLEE FROM THE ALL-SEEING EYE OF THE INTERWEBS!

The truth is that this is just another example of journalistic shorthand, bias confirmation, and a bunch of anti-web folk with axes to grind. I was not there, but I was watching the #heweb09 hashtag. And from my part of the world, this was one little piece of a larger conference where the rabble lauded the great talks, commented some on good talks, didn't say much about fair talks, and loaded for bear against Galper's five year old talk that had little to do with the audience.

Think of it this way -- a lot of people there were spending their own money (including airfare and hotel) because their schools wouldn't pay for them to go. They felt like they deserved to get their money's worth. If they're getting disrespected by a keynote speaker who apparently didn't know his audience, they're going to grumble.

Having this laid alongside a case of blatant sexism is specious, akin to something the media would do in juxtaposing Obama with Hitler or something. And there was no attempt to talk to Galper? Yeah, that's lazy journalism. And no mention of the closest analogue to this fiasco, the infamous Zuckerberg interview at SXSW 2008.

I have been on the wrong side of an upset Twitter crowd. What did I do? Adjust the talk. And then the crowd put down their pitchforks and engaged. That's all you have to do. A good speaker wouldn't even need Twitter; they'd be able to read the audience. But a speaker with a view of the backchannel will be able to read and react just as well, and for newer speakers it can really help them be better speakers.

So, suzannewayne, do you know what I did after my bad experience with the backchannel? Kept right on submitting proposals. Because if you're so sensitive as to run away from speaking because of a bunch of grumpy, overworked, underpaid higher ed web geeks, you shouldn't have been speaking at all.

19. researchguy - November 18, 2009 at 11:59 am

You think this crowd was tough? Just wait till the pre-teen American-Idol-raised, green-slime-expecting, remote-surfing blink-generation arrive in your classroom in eight year's time. Tweed jacket, plastic overheads, photo slides and yellow-edged notes just ain't gonna cut it anymore!

20. tjoo1691 - November 18, 2009 at 12:16 pm

This is bringing to light a known phenomenon and in the age of twitter, we should all be listening. I teach communication technology where I address the idea of privacy in the use of broadcast mediums like blogs or microblogs. Twitter has only enhanced these issues. We need to remember the implications of the channel we choose to communicate a message. When twittering using hashtags, everyone in the world can read it; therefore, we need to be more cognizant of whom our audiences are and the implications of our message, in particular, when it is about another individual (internal locus of control - don't blame the technology).

As Viagas (2005) describes “bloggers do not have a good idea of who their entire audience is” and have “...imprecise assessments of readership that have serious implications for privacy.” Further, he states, “asking permission of others before blogging about them tends not to be the rule.” (See http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol10/issue3/viegas.html.)

This is a great conference and is just evidence of what I have seen at many other conferences (on a smaller scale). It is not an isolated even or indicative of the quality of this conference. As a conference go-er and wanting to stab myself in the neck with a fork several times, conference planning committees need to choose key notes that have public speaking skills. Just because someone has a great resume or vita does not mean I want to hear them speak over lunch. Maybe, they are better heard in their writings (hint). I want someone who is extemporaneous, insightful, thought-provoking, and yes, entertaining. Oh yeah, and that understands the implications of PowerPoint ;)

21. dank48 - November 18, 2009 at 12:45 pm

I've seen better, more convincing defenses of fascism.

22. mvclibrary - November 18, 2009 at 12:48 pm

What hope do we have for student behavior when the "adults" are so rude to others? The epitome of rudeness, for me, was when I saw a 30-something man texting at a funeral. ADD is either rampant or manners are passe, from where I stand.

23. lougan - November 18, 2009 at 01:17 pm

I was at the #heweb09 conference, and I must say it was rather fascinating to watch. There is good reason for there to be such mixed feelings about such an event. Cruel or not, in a world where everything is connected, those presenting at any conference are supposed to be enlightening people and leading conversation.

Mr. Galper did not quite meet up to those standards. In the end, he should have done at least a little research on those he was presenting to. He also should have considered his presentation. One thing you may note, you won't see many people supporting Mr. Galper during the conversation...

Comments like this have been made on the internet for years. I think its just the fact that Twitter gives such comments a platform that it has never had before.

24. adamnorwood - November 18, 2009 at 01:22 pm

The interesting permutation in this backchannel backlash, to me, is that it was conducted silently. Unlike previous Twitter-fueled keynote meltdowns I've sat through (like the SXSW 2008 Zuckerburg / Lacy near-riot, where it was palpably uncomfortable to be in the room as things fell apart and the audience took control of the session), or even some academic lectures I've seen get ugly, no one in this audience heckled Galper verbally, sadly no one asked pressing questions (or questions of any kind) during the Q&A, and there was no mass exodus out of the room when it became clear that his talk was outdated and of limited interest. And unlike the SXSW fiasco, the backchannel wasn't projected up on big screens throughout the room, adding to the angry buzz. BUT, tweets were marked with the #heweb09 hashtag, ensuring that they'd make it out to a wider audience than just the conference attendees, eventually ending up as a trending topic on twitter.com, and because of that we're here talking about it now, over a month later.

The backlash wasn't an especially constructive exercise, and I still haven't seen any followup comment or interview with David Galper about what happened (I imagine that might make an interesting companion piece to this article...), but I don't think the conference attendees meant for it to spiral out beyond mere snarkiness. I agree with georgy's comment above that this was overall a case of mutual disrepect, and in pre-Twitter times would have just been whispered and giggled about amongst those who sat through it, picking at their lunch.

25. locutus - November 18, 2009 at 01:52 pm

Perhaps I'm a bit more out of the loop than I realise. How many academic conferences that aren't specifically about technology have people Tweeting frequently?

26. rosescarlet - November 18, 2009 at 02:41 pm

When did people stop learning how to be polite and how to behave in public? Being stuck with even the worst speaker doesn't condone rude behavior on the part of the audience. Technology may make it easier to say whatever you want about whomever you choose, but that doesn't make it right to purposely embarrass a colleague.

No one starts out being an elloquent speaker. That is a skill that one develops with practice. The person who is struggling today could well be a major player in a few years time. So I would suggest that before we are so rude as to pillory a speaker on Twitter, perhaps we should remember that this is a person's CAREER we're messing with. Someone's LIFE. Would you like someone playing God with your own career like that?

Remember what our mothers taught us: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

27. karlynm - November 18, 2009 at 02:45 pm

I was there (in fact, I was the one responsible for the severed head quote in the article) and it really just amazes me that people lash out and blame the audience for this.

I don't regret one little bit of it.

I speak at a lot of events, including this one, and I do it knowing full well that if I'm off my game, it will be reported in the back channel, especially at a conference so deeply rooted in technology as this one. That's motivation to prepare.

The speaker here was MORE than off his game. He never should have accepted this engagement to begin with and frankly was irresponsible to do so. Many people, including myself, self-fund to go to this conference and when I'm out over $1,000, I want my monies worth.

This event shows nothing more than if you are PAID to give a KEYNOTE ADDRESS at a conference, you had better come prepared or suffer the consequences. Why on earth would I want to go to a conference that didn't hold their speakers to that minimal standard? You don't have to be GREAT. Just be prepared.

One commenter hit on the story that isn't often told from this conference - when one attendee had her laptop stolen and we all banded together to get her a new one. When a member of the group needs help, all they need do is ask on Twitter and someone, if not multiple people, will be there. This is a group that will give their time and energy and knowledge to anyone that asks, without asking a thing in return. I am so proud to call them my colleagues, my teachers and my friends. And if you talk to the other presenters at this conference, I'm sure that many of them will be proposing again next year.

So for the commenters getting on their high horses, I only hope for you that you have the support system like I do from this group. You should be so lucky.

28. mherzber - November 18, 2009 at 03:06 pm

As the person who started the tweckling I thought I might as well weigh in. I think at times people under estimate the crowd they might encounter at a higher ed conference so this my be part of the reason. But he should have done his homework before he got there. He could have contact any of us on IM (the new hip communication technology according to him) and asked some questions of us before he got there.

Case in point Stamats Sim Tech 08, Chris Brogan was the keynote speaker and prior to the conference he started to engage the audience and ask them questions to probe where we were at and what we expected to get. When he arrived at the conference I was the current presenter and I think within minutes he was taken aback by the level of knowledge of the various speakers at the conference so he adjusted his talk and actual followed and adjusted to the backchannel during the discussion.

Here is a post regarding twitter backchannel that is over two years old from my much neglected blog that is still poniant today Backchannel is powerful. http://mattherzberger.com/2008/07/28/back-channel-is-powerful/

29. jwoolson - November 18, 2009 at 03:21 pm

Marc Parry:
Here is the original of your article lead:
http://twitter.com/jwoolson/status/4660436138

Neologisms are organic and emerging all the time. I took a moment on October 6 to put some thought into phasing the definition to fit into 140 characters and to be suitable for long-term reuse. It appears that my effort was well-spent. Thank you, sir.

As you must know, attribution is the coin of the realm in the blogo- and microblogo-sphere, but is not always possible.

So, while I take no great umbrage at your unattributed use of the tweet, it might have been nice to hear from you *before* you published with my tweet ...as your story lead. A Google search would have revealed the original source in about 0.73sec.

السلام عليكم
@jwoolson

30. lanejoplin - November 18, 2009 at 03:25 pm

I was in Milwaukee for the conference as well. Before attending, I, like many other attendees, did our research. We looked into who was presenting, what they were presenting on, and we took the time to follow them if they were on Twitter.

From the beginning of the first day it was evident that Tweeting during presentations was acceptable at the conference. We were not violating a social norm for the group. Tweeting is a way for us to share what we are learning in different tracks of the conference.

If there was a hint that tweeting during this keynote was a violation of a social norm, I'm sure the number of tweets would have been significantly lower than 500.

Like with everything, consider the context. If this was a conference on science or another subject not related to web and marketing, tweeting the keynote would, most likely, violate a social norm.

31. rranallo - November 18, 2009 at 03:54 pm

People are getting caught up in the particular incident, but that isn't really what is at the heart of this. I attend many conferences where people tweet with abandon and the majority are civil and provide a lot of insight into the content and value of the sessions. That is what is of value in tweets from conferences. While not as viral the conference in question here, there is always a little bit of unprofessional tweeting that goes on too. The truth is that this happens frequently and not just when a presenter is wildly incompetent. Sometimes it is a personal grudge, aired in public and sometimes it is just a newbie, but it is never ok and it reflects badly on the person sending the inappropriate tweet.

32. clrelay - November 18, 2009 at 03:56 pm

This sounds like, at worst, "virtual heckling". Lynching, it was not.

33. rxnfish - November 18, 2009 at 04:52 pm

Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller November 18, 2009 is apropos to this discussion.

http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/


34. vincekuraitis - November 18, 2009 at 05:31 pm

We are all demanding "transparency" in government, academia, corporations... This story is about just that -- "transparency". You might not like it, but recognize it for what it is and don't expect to turn the clock back.

35. jwoolson - November 18, 2009 at 06:04 pm

Vince Kuraitis: Exactly. Transparency AND inevitability.

What I observed was that HighEdWeb09 folks were honest and self-reflective in their tweets and blogs after that keynote.

Moving forward, not backward to embrace the backchannel:

Afer much post-conference analysis and digesting, there was an expressed hope for future (large/keynote) presentations to have an "audience ombudsman" who would have the responsibility to monitor the backchannel chatter. A post by Jeffery Veen was cited as inspiration:
http://www.veen.com/jeff/archives/000996.html

Then when the presenter is done with their main presentation and ready to entertain questions, s/he would be given a digest of audience questions by the audience ombudsman, who distills the questions from any backchannel chatter.

By closing the feedback loop and (re)engaging the audience (with some human assistance), even a poorly-skilled presenter might be able to get it back on the tracks. A skilled audience ombudsman might even intervene when things seem to be trending out of control.

Perhaps this multi-layered approach to large presentations may catch on as a wider trend, with many thanks to Mr. Veen.




36. explomary - November 18, 2009 at 07:26 pm

I found myself carried away at the CASW conference in Austin with what ended up seeming like adolescent note-passing in class. Fun while it lasted, but I ended up apologizing to the twitter group because my tweets weren't professional and didn't reflect well on the quality of conference or the speakers, which were excellent overall. Give middle-aged science writers a tool developed for teenagers and look what happens?

37. coybean - November 19, 2009 at 01:27 am

Let me break this down. The comments are basically split between two camps: those who are afraid that their own presentation skills are subpar and, thus, desperately cling to any form of overreaction to save them from themselves and those who consider education a transactional experience that affords them the right to complain about the service, as it were. To the first camp I ask: so it would have been LESS embarassing if half the crowd had stood up and challenged the speaker on his ineffectiveness? To the second I ask: would any of you felt comfortable revealing your true identities? To own up to your tweets?

Just wondering.

Mostly I fall on the side of free flows of information. Just think if that poor man were left to think he gave a GOOD talk? He'd keep on inflicting it upon people. No matter how he got the truth it seems to me that him getting it is a net positive. Or, as I might say in 40 characters or less: man up.

38. 11242283 - November 19, 2009 at 07:12 am

Y'know, I accept that this presenter may have given a presentation that was substandard and may have even "insulted" the audience, but so what? That's never happened to you before? Not once, ever? It's only an hour -- no one is forcing you to spend eternity (even if it feels like it) there. So man up and just deal.

The notion that people would weigh in here justifying the most adolescent behavior and then accuse the rest of us of getting on a high horse is laughable. Get over yourselves. At the risk of seeming incredibly "old fogey-ish", I don't understand what the purpose of tweeting during someone's talk is. Even if the talk is good -- how are you even listening if you're tweeting. Increasingly studies show that peoples' ability to multi-task is seriously overestimated. In my humble experience, people spend so much time constructing their clever remarks, they tune out the stimulus they are ostensibly responding to. Making the exercis -- you guessed it -- all about them and their cleverness for all the world to see. This is not what communication or scholarly discourse is all about.

So justify yourself all you want -- you know you were rude and that your behavior was inexcuable. End of story.

39. stebert - November 19, 2009 at 08:53 am

Why do people tweet during sessions?

One legitimate use is a replacement for paper notes. Your own personal twitterstream can be an effective archive for personal take-aways or action items -- the core information that I want to remember when I get back to the office.

It can also be an effective means of social connection with those who are attending. For those not attending, it also extends the community of the audience to those who are following the proceedings offline. That, in effect, shows people what they're missing, and is a form of marketing.

I don't think it's effective to suggest in most circles that you can effectively ban Twitter from a conference, classroom, webinar. If you don't invite attendees to use a hashtag, then they will create their own. If you nurture your own online community effectively, it can be self-policing when it needs to be.

40. laoshi - November 19, 2009 at 11:26 am

Three words: Cell phone jammer.

Three nasty letters: FCC.

41. karlynm - November 19, 2009 at 01:37 pm

@coybean - You asked: "To the second I ask: would any of you felt comfortable revealing your true identities? To own up to your tweets? "

None of us were hiding our "true identities", and I pretty clearly owned up to one of the tweets in this article being mine without reservation in my earlier comment. I can't think of a single person who was involved in this ask it was going on that was hiding anything. If anything, we all put ourselves and our identities out there more than most people would feel comfortable with.

What I've found really ironic about following this conversation is that the people who are calling our behavior inexcusable/indefensible/whatever in the comments are usually hiding THEIR identities. They aren't standing up and owning their words. Take the comment right after yours from "11242283". I think it's laughable that people won't put their name next to a comment trashing myself and my friends, and then expect people to take what they say remotely seriously.

42. lacyt - November 19, 2009 at 09:30 pm

@coybean - You asked: "To the second I ask: would any of you felt comfortable revealing your true identities? To own up to your tweets? "

I second karlynm's comment ... no one was hiding behind a mask ... our twitter usernames were on our nametags! People at the conference would call people out by their twitter usernames -- hey @Robin2Go! What's up? @crevier - the guy with the baseball cap!

43. cleverclogs - November 20, 2009 at 09:44 am

If we can put aside the specifics here (this may indeed have been a wretched presentation or a gathering of a pack of hyenas, whatever), I think there's another interesting question to be asked and that is, can tweeting actually make it harder to enjoy the presentation?

Part of creating a successful presentation is making sure everyone is in the room with you, so to speak, so that you can create atmosphere (this is why Alfred Hitchcock wouldn't let the audience leave the theater after "Psycho" started). If half or more of the audience is spending valuable brain energy on something else, the speaker is going to seem more and more like an annoyance.

For example, I might be watching the best freakin' movie of the year but if I have to go to the bathroom, I just want it to end. That's hardly the movie's fault. It's the fault of the giant soda that I am habitually addicted to getting.

Similarly, if I am habitually addicted to twitter, then I can never really be in the room since half of my attention is diverted to what's happening on the backchannel. Asking a presenter to break this kind of tech addiction is like asking them to break one's addiction to sugar and caffeine. That's pretty unfair.

44. geequegal - November 20, 2009 at 09:52 am

Marc Parry - @jwoolson is right, if his tweet is actually the original source, he most certainly should be cited.

I am definitely against anonymous cyberbullying. This does not seem to be what occurred. Out of context and away from the event, it's easy to judge based one what we THINK happened. Do I feel badly for Mr. Galper, certainly. But if he DID receive PAYMENT for a talk that he did not bother to prepare properly for, the earlier commenters are right - we geeks can be brutally and sarcastically honest.

On the other hand, it was NOT anonymous. As indicated by lacyt, attendees usernames were on their nametags. So in fact - you REALLY DID have to be there. This wasn't random flaming or the obnoxious "discourse" that happens too often in Chronicle comments.

Unprofessional? Maybe, but honest feedback nonetheless. *I* wouldn't mind working with these Tweeters, it would keep me on my A-game.

45. jesskry - November 20, 2009 at 02:29 pm

Were it not for conference tweeters I'd not have the connections to other higher ed professionals that I do, nor the opportunity to learn from conferences that I cannot afford to attend. Its not just tech conferences: many conferences have dedicated tweeters. Contrary to popular belief, conference tweeting is not for social benefit or ridicule but a tactile way to learn, connect and teach others. I think those who see it as a virtual note passing in class really miss the boat on this technology in general.

@jesskry

46. jeraldr - November 20, 2009 at 02:49 pm

I was at the Lessig talk mentioned, tweeting my thumbs off the whole time as part of my note-taking and sharing process. I posted one tweet in which I complained about the award ceremony that preceded the talk because a) it went on far too long and b) I had come to hear Lessig, not awards acceptance speeches. My time is precious and I could have been doing other things, if only I had know what I was going to be in for. I felt I had been bait-and-switched. If someone thinks it is rude of me to say so, too bad. - Jo

47. ghostofunder - November 21, 2009 at 12:39 am

I would suggest there are two different types of negative back channel comments, ones that relates directly to what the speaker is (or isn't) saying and another that could be categorized as being rude for the sake of amusement or as a relief to boredom. The first could easily be considered contributions. What do trashing the speaker with broad generalizations and what one might think are witty comments (lacking utensils to put one's self out of the torture of listening) really contribute? I would agree that a feeding frenzy is a rude adolescent behavior that is difficult enough to watch when it involves adolescents.

48. amnirov - November 21, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Really. If people don't want unkind comments about their presentations, perhaps the ideal way to address the situation would be to not suck. Too many people have no idea how to use powerpoint (eg you should never use a powerpoint presentation, but if you do, you should never use a transition, never use an animation, never use more than 5 bullet points per slide, never use more than one font, never use any stupid formatting or idiotic colors, black on white or white on black only should be the law). You should never speak in jargon. You should never "read" an article you wrote. You should always rehearse at least 10 times regardless of your academic rank. You should always come in at least 2 minutes under time. Not sucking is not difficult.

A large conference charges upwards of $300 registration. Keynotes have an absolute ironclad duty to not suck. The audience should feel free not only to Twitter, but to boo and throw hard rolls.

49. thepadrino - November 21, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Sponsored Tweets is a Twitter advertising platform Where you can make money by tweeting post try it out http://bit.ly/7G4abB

50. jjfair - November 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm

The posting reflecting "bad behavior" in person or tweeting is not acceptable. Over the past decade, the American attitude is it is "my" priviledge of "Entitlement" to do as "I" choose, because it is "me". True speakers, educator, and others presenting should make an storng effort aqainst "sucking." This proves that, verbal communication, and presenting skill development is needed, even for the best. School fails to teach presenting, and speacking publically, I do. This is a skill that is NEEDED at all levels of education.

51. outtanames999 - November 27, 2009 at 04:25 pm

This is hardly the first instance of back channel sniping by event attendees via Twitter. But the phenomenon is fairly new and does raise a number of issues.

Real time streaming of Tweets is real time streaming of consciousness. What they are tweeting and what you are reading are what they are thinking in real time. Twitter opens up the innermost thoughts and pushes them outward. It is a silent cacophony. Because it is written, it is silent and therefore less threatening than a vocal mob. Were it audible in real time, well you can imagine the result. Mobtweeting is not the same as moblogging.

As to issues of speaker vs. audience, there are elements of fairness that should be taken into consideration. While the Twitter users did not claim any particular anonymity and felt they were open about their posts, nevertheless, to third party onlookers, even to the speaker himself were he able to read their comments in real time, they would indeed have been essentially anonymous, as much as if the comments appeared as little tidbits written on paper and posted on the wall of the conference room.

That attendees have the right to express themselves is clear. Whether they should go ahead and do so or refrain from doing so or be prohibited by good manners or denial of cell phone service or by terms and conditions of attendance is not as clear and more difficult to ascertain. There are certainly valid arguments on all sides.

Now let us consider the plight of the speaker under these conditions of real time back channel tweets.

Were the tweets audible by the self-proclaimed non-anonymous commenters, the speaker would soon find him- or herself under obvious attack of a kind that we just do not find in polite society, social gatherings, business meetings or academia. An immediate politicization of the topic possibly accompanied by ad hominem attacks would be in full swing. The word ambush comes to mind under these conditions. Confrontation or retreat would be the most likely courses of action in the event that reasonable discourse could not be achieved. Pity the speaker who finds himself in such a predicament regardless of whether the realization of the attack comes during or after the presentation. The issue of adequate preparation, while possibly a factor in the Milwaukee conference, is of itself no guarantee that tweckling will not take place. Twekling is in the eye of the beholder.

So, given the ubiquitous nature of the web and mobile communications, perhaps we can arm speakers with some counter measures. Anticipating the possibility, a speaker could state his preference for real time tweets and go on record as being comfortable or uncomfortable with them. He could acknowledge the plight of the unhappy attendee and encourage those not pleased to excuse themselves or express their comments privately to him.

He could also monitor the audience reaction and adjust accordingly if possible as others have suggested, assuming the speaker has the breadth of knowledge, speaking skills and ability to do so.

Among other possbilities that come to mind, he could bring his own tweeters with him, a support person or team who could post supportive tweets, a voluminous number of tweets so as to drown out criticism, or engage in face to face communication on his behalf with the unhappy members of the audience.

En guard! ; )

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.