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Tweckling Twitterfolk: Chronicle Readers React to the New World of Twitter Conference Humiliation

A new low for academic life?

A powerful tool to improve conferences?

A shameful act of journalism?

A Chronicle story today about the abuse of Twitter at conferences is touching off an online debate among readers. Dozens of them are arguing about a new trend in academic life: how audience members now “tweckle” speakers by heckling them on the micro-blogging service Twitter.

Meanwhile, several readers pointed out yet another tweckling episode, which was not included in the article. This one involved Danah Boyd of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. More on that here.

Writes one reader: “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.”

And another: “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.”

This reader also reflected another strand of opinion: that it was inappropriate of a Chronicle reporter to name the victim of one particularly brutal tweckling episode.

“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?” a different reader wrote. “This seemed the biggest spitball of them all. Shame on Mr. Parry and his editors.”

Another stressed the benfits of conference tweeting:

“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?”

Some defended the attendees:

“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.”

Another speculated about the future of the conference where one audience revolt took place:

“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.”

One speculated about how likely such revolts would be in different disciplines:

“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?”

And finally:

“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?”

What do you think?

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