Being Good Web Citizens

May 22, 2013, 4:59 pm


If I were alive I would tweet Engels. Just saying.

Listen up! Vanessa Varin is trying to start a convo about ethical web practices over at the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History. She was kind enough to solicit the opinions of the #twitterstorians about the practice of live tweeting panels, and has written a couple of good pieces which aren’t getting enough attention. This may be because the comments section isn’t working. Varin’s new piece, “Being a Good Web Citizen” is also now up, and worth a look as well.

All of us who were solicited for comment came out against #snark while live tweeting a panel, you’ll be glad to know. Twitter seems to be more vulnerable to the regrettable riposte than blogging is, and since the emergence of Storify, it’s far harder to take back. Varin cites Kathleen Fitzpatrick of the MLA, who expressed concerns earlier in the year about academics shaming other academics on Twitter  (bless you, Kathleen! Now let’s move on to colleagues posting #mean$hit on Facebook, thinking that you won’t ever see it.)  Tim McCormick responds to Fitzpatrick’s call for civility here.

But it’s all publishing, right? The difference is that it’s DIY and we have no editors. Every twitterstorian thus has to be a writer, editor, copy chief and liability lawyer simultaneously. Responding to Vanessa’s question about tweeting panels, I suggested that we all ask permission before we do it, something I did for the first time ever this year: any other form of recording for broadcast would require a signed form of some kind.  ”If etiquette dictates a tweeter should ask permission before broadcasting a panel, should a blogger do the same?” Varin asked in a follow up. “Furthermore, if we ask tweeters and bloggers to ask permission, should any historian who is taking notes during the session do the same? How do we remain consistent?”

Yes to the blogger question: it’s the same as tweeting because it is very public and it is a form of broadcast. In fact, when Twitter began it was described as a micro-blogging platform, even though it has now become it’s own thing. But taking notes seems like a different genre entirely: it’s a private activity, not a public one, and doesn’t broadcast anything. We also know that to use anything heard in an AHA session without citing the presenter (something which often involves soliciting the paper, or asking if it is to be published imminently) would definitely be a violation of professional standards.

One way to think about web ethics is to compare them to IRL situations and ask yourself: is this technology fundamentally different? If so, why? If not, are there practices we already agree on that apply?

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