Inexcusable Twitter Behavior: Why Aren’t We Beyond All of This?

Danah Boyd photo: by Joi (Flickr) thru creative commons

I follow a lot of blogs on technology, libraries, librarians and social networking.  One of the blogs I follow is the blog of danah boyd.  danah boyd is a social media researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society.  She is probably the leading researcher and scholar on the subject of youth and social networking.  I have no idea how many talks and presentations she has given; but, I can only imagine that it is A LOT.

Last week, she was giving a talk at Web2.0 Expo.  This is a conference for web geeks and those interested in web geekery.  You can read her post on what happened here.  I’ve always had tons of respect and admiration for her work anyway and for being so active and present in a man’s world; but, that post has elevated my admiration even further.

To quickly summarize:  The organizers of the conference decided that a Twitter stream should be visible behind the presenter.  So, while she was speaking, there was a live stream projected behind her of what people in her audience were saying about her talk.  The Twitter stream behind her turned nasty when the audience started making comments about her presentation style and apparently (though I have not seen all the tweets) personal attacks.  By her own admission, it was not the slickest speech.  I went on YouTube and watched it.  It actually was not that poorly presented in my opinion.  She definitely spoke too fast; but, I’m certain that having the audience burst into laughter when you haven’t made a joke is unsettling and I too would race to the end.

At the bottom of her blog post there are numerous comments and a couple of the commenters talk about the “social contract” between presenter and audience.   This is an important part of the conversation.  Is there a contract between presenter and audience? When is it okay for the audience to be equal participants?  Is it ever okay for the audience to become the focal point?  Why do we go to hear speakers?  All these and a million more questions have been raised by Ms. boyd’s experience and her sharing of this experience with the larger, connected world.

To me, all the debating in the world can go on about whether broadcast Twitter streams have a place at conferences while people are presenting and/or about whether what happened to danah boyd was a legitimate use of Twitter or a bunch of people angling for exposure, trying to one up each other with deeper and wordier insults; but, the core issue is humans treating other humans with decency and respect.  When did it become okay to take fidgeting during a “boring” lecture to delivering public and personal attacks on the presenter?  This is not okay.  There is an appropriate time and place for CONSTRUCTIVE criticism of a lecture; but, during a presentation is not one of them.  It only ends up being disruptive and rude.  If you wouldn’t stand up in the middle of a lecture hall and yell it, you probably shouldn’t tweet a personal attack.

The sad part of all of this is that we’ve completely lost her message which is incredibly thought provoking.   I urge you to read the transcript of her talk.  She is one of our brightest minds and what she has to say is relevant and insightful.  I found her closing comments  ironic in light of what happened.

As we continue to move from a broadcast model of information to a networked one, we will continue to see reworkings of the information landscape. Some of what is unfolding is exciting, some is terrifying. The key is not be all utopian or dystopian about it, but to recognize what changes and what stays the same. The future of Web2.0 is about information flow and if you want to help people, help them reach that state. Y’all are setting the tone of the future of information. Keep it exciting and, please, recognize the power that you have!

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