Social Media at Conferences
What are the norms for using social media to publicly discuss the conference sessions you’re attending?
I don’t think the extreme free speech position of “tweet whatever you want, whenever you want” is the right one. Why not?
Well, a conference may have policies regarding the sharing of conference content on social media that organizers have made explicit to prospective and actual conference attendees, and attendees should (barring highly unusual circumstances) abide by them. It doesn’t appear that many philosophy conferences have such policies, but it would probably be a good idea to have them (not just in their programs, but in their acceptance notifications), just as a way of communicating preferences and setting expectations.
Even in the absence of conference policies, though, certain norms might be worth having in place in the profession regarding publicly posting about what a presenter says. This is because, generally, when one agrees to say something to a particular audience, they are not thereby agreeing to say that thing to the entire world. Also, “present as if the whole world might hear you” is not a desirable norm for most academic conferences, for various reasons (and this is true even if “the whole world might hear you” is a risk any presenter faces).
At the same time, “what happens at the conference stays at the conference” is also not the right general norm. For one thing, a lot of social media commentary about conference sessions is of a sort that no one would seriously object to (e.g., “just heard so-and-so give a brilliant argument for such-and-such”). For another, sometimes social media commentary can be intellectually valuable through further discussion of ideas or by helping scholars with similar interests become aware of each other. And more broadly, that people want to talk about something counts in favor of them being able to talk about it, and one of the ways we talk is through social media.
So what might be good norms to have? Here are some to get the discussion going, though it may be that different norms may be appropriate for different kinds of academic conferences:
- If a presenter asks that specific arguments or data not be shared publicly, that request should be honored.
- Before publicly criticizing a presenter or the ideas they’ve shared, take reasonable steps to voice that criticism to the presenter during the conference so as to ascertain its aptness and their reply.
- Photos of conference participants should not be posted publicly on social media without their permission.
- If you are going to be interacting on social media during a presentation, sit towards the back of the room so as to minimize the distraction you cause.
More generally, it may be helpful to keep in mind that though it is in the interest of Zuckerberg, Musk, and the rest of our social media overlords that we adopt the mindset that everything we are experiencing is urgent and newsworthy, there is usually nothing urgent about what’s happening at a philosophy conference, and we should be on guard about being manipulated into sacrificing well-worn norms of human interaction.
Finally, I should acknowledge that while it was prompted by a recent dispute over a social media posting about a philosophy conference, this post’s point is not to discuss that particular dispute, so comments about it will be deleted.
Rather the point of the post is to solicit suggestions for social media norms for philosophy conferences and suggestions for conference policies regarding social media. Pointers to norms and policies in use elsewhere are welcome.
Insofar as the public subsidizes academic philosophy through student loans, grants, state funding, and so on, the conferences should be streamed to the public. If what goes on at the conference is in the public interest and so subsidized by the public, the public is entitled to see.Report
Do you think that the contents of every event that is subsidized by the public and at which there may be something of “public interest” is one that “the public is entitled to see”? And entitled to see as it is happening? This is a very radical suggestion, with implications far beyond academic conferences.
Why should we think that in general public subsidy implies such thorough and immediate radical transparency? Perhaps for the purposes of accountability? It seems like, recognizing the downsides of radical transparency, we have figured out other mechanisms for accountability in other domains. So why not give weight to the downsides of applying it to the domain of academic conferences, and go with other mechanisms of accountability?Report
not particularly radical, if the public payed for the work shouldn’t they benefit from it, do you doubt that we can handle the idea of work in progress? what’s to hide?Report
This is easy, I think. I am more willing to share my polished work broadly than my unpolished works in progress. If every work presented in every forum is to be treated as a polished work, that gives me some disincentive to put works in progress into those forums. (Fora!) And so if you think it is good to have work in progress get workshopped, and if you also think that I am not particularly out of line in my willingnesses, then you have some warrant for reasonable concerns about “hiding.”Report
why cut the public out of the process of workshopping, why can’t we also learn from seeing how things get developed and maybe even being participants in the process? As to how you are psychologically disposed and or incentivized maybe not everyone is cut out for public service.Report
so, those of us at private universities can disallow the public to see their talks? What about those of us not at US universities? Can we set up the tech so that only our taxpayers can see our talks?Report
Same reason we cut the public out of the process of reading tax returns and smoothing road surfaces and all sorts of other things. There’s a lot of detail-oriented work that goes best when done by the specialists, with the public getting the benefits of the completed project later on.Report
But the analogy is not symmetrical since most journals are not publicly funded and most articles are behind paywalls. In academia, the finished product will most likely be turned into a commodity and not a public good.Report
The public payed for the work of intelligence agencies, so their meetings should be live streamed?Report
I keep seeing “payed”, instead of paid. I had to check. Here is what I found: “Payed is a rare word that’s only used in nautical/maritime contexts. It can be used to refer to the act of coating parts of a boat with waterproof material or to the act of letting out a rope or chain by slackening it. Paid is the much more common word, used as the past tense of the verb “pay” in all other senses”.Report
Thanks for this correctionReport
Academic philosophy doesn’t produce the kind of tangible results that other fields do. Accountability is easy when you can point to technology, works of art, infrastructure, and the like, but I can’t imagine a plausible way for philosophy to do the same. I take your point about the livestreaming, and would settle for a video of the conference after the fact, or at least a transcript. But if philosophers want the taxpayer to foot the bill for their conferences, an assurance by interested parties that the quality of their work will suffer otherwise isn’t sufficient justification.Report
indeed, these folks (and their reasoning) are best left to the tender mercies of state legislators, John Dewey rolls in his grave…Report
The US has an open access law: All federally funded research, if published, must be freely available to the public. The law applies to conference proceedings. On a narrow reading, the law probably doesn’t apply to conference talks, but it can be construed that way. And it doesn’t seem like merely presenting at a public university, or being a presenter from a public university, triggers open access, but, again, it’s not hard to see the law being interpreted or extended in that way.
Looking that over, it doesn’t seem very likely to be relevant to most philosophy. “Federally funded” doesn’t mean things like “I got student loans to pay for my education” or “I work at a state university” but rather that money from the federal government – in grants, or otherwise directly supplied by the federal government – paid for the relevant research. So, maybe some people who do work supported by NSF grants or the like would fall under this, but the large majority of philosopher would not. (Of course, those outside the US certainly would not.) Furthermore, “conference proceedings” means things like a publication of papers that were presented at a conference, usually after revisions. It would not apply to a talk given at a conference. So, this law is almost always going to be irrelevant to sitatuions like the one giving rise to this post, and to the large majority of philosophy, and on any plausible reading it won’t be.Report
For now, it does look like philosophers are mostly in the clear. (And I made those points in my post.). But these kinds of laws get expansively interpreted. And look how state laws are increasingly impacting academics, including philosophers (e.g. CRT, reproductive rights, etc.). For now, you’re right that philosophers aren’t much impacted. Given things politicians are currently saying, I’d bet we soon will be.Report
I would not accept the conditional at the end. I think it would be in the public interest and worth public subsidy for elementary school kids to have counsellors available. Nonetheless, I think it would be a big mistake to allow the public to sit in on counseling sessions with elementary school kids.
Likewise, it would be in the public interest and worth public subsidy for national advocates to plan carefully how to defend against rogue against. Nonetheless, I think it would be a big mistake to allow the public to sit in on those planning sessions.
Of course, there are differences between those cases and conferences. But the conditional itself won’t do to get at those differences. And I suspect that the differences go beyond privacy interests. They get at things like, is the substance of the process in the public interest, the fact of the process, the results of the process? They get at things like when and how sunshine makes the work along the way harder to accomplish.Report
This probably needs to be rephrased to accommodate the fact that presenters often give tacit permission by registering when registration includes something like a photo release waiver. Question is exactly whom that permission is given to. Otherwise agreed that if the conference hasn’t made you sign a waiver no one should post your picture without your permission–unless it’s very flattering, of course.Report
Some people would be more likely to give permission to post a picture if it were very flattering. But no posting pictures without permission is a better rule, surely.Report
The bit about flattery was of course facetious.Report
Wouldn’t most photo release waivers be about “official” photos, used for conference-related purposes, not just random pictures posted just anywhere by any person? I don’t think I’ve every seen a waiver that would explicitly allow for the later, and signing the former wouldn’t grant waiver to the later, but maybe you have seen such an open ended waiver somewhere. I’d be interested to hear about examples if so.Report
I don’t know, frankly, but I just meant that the provision should be qualified given that *some* pictures may be taken with *tacit* permission. If that only covers official pictures then so be it. I don’t disagree with the general rule so don’t shoot the messenger!Report
Some of the more interesting talks I’ve been to are ones in which philosophers are willing to go out on a limb in pursuit of a juicy philosophical idea, even if there are acknowledged doubts about whether the branch will be able to hold them and all of their equipment. I suspect philosophers, especially younger ones, would be discouraged from taking such risky steps if they knew everyone in the world might seem them fall. That would be rotten.Report
One reason why people should hesitate to do things like “live tweet” a conference talk (perhaps especially with pictures) is that it’s often easy to misunderstand what the presenter is saying, or for a picture to misrepresent it. If the person posting has a large social media following, or is connected to people who do, the misrepresentation can spread quickly, and can be hard to undo. I assume that anyone who has read a significant twitter comment section knows that it’s not unusual for people there to take things in the worst possible light and re-post them. Because this obviously happens, there should be a heightened sense of care in posting such things.
Importantly, this can happen even whent he person posting is sympathetic to the one presenting. I remember several years ago when there was a very large conference on Rawls at Fordham Law School, and a well-known legal philosophy blogger “live blogged” the conference. The blogger was very sympathetic to Rawls, and to the large majority of the speakers, and was a good blogger and legal theorist. I read and enjoyed the posts, but afterwords it came out that several of the presenters thought that their views had been (unintentionally) distorted or misrepresented, and were annoyed to have what they thought were wrong versions presented widely. It seems plausible that the possibility of misrepresentation and distortion is even more likely when a person is reporting on a view that they are hostile to, even if this is not consciously done. Because this is an area where there’s a large chance of going wrong, even if people are trying to be careful and are not being malicious, and where the benefit of doing the action is typically relatively limited, it seems like a good idea to not do it, and to have a norm against doing it.Report
1.When you post something on social media and it turns out that what you posted is false, you should apologize for your incorrect statement and take the post down.
2.Stay off your phone while someone is presenting/talking. No, being on your phone in the back of the room is not appropriate — it’s rude.
3.There should be a general prohibition against sharing conference material with people outside of the conference group, unless the presenter gives explicit permission for it to be shared. This is especially true when something said is controversial and the game of telephone is likely to misconstrue the position and cast the presenter in a negative light.
The purpose of a conference is to share ideas and bounce ideas off of people who share similar interests. If it becomes a general norm that anything said in an academic conference could be broadcast publicly in such a way to make someone look bad/dumb/sexist/etc., that’s going to have a chilling effect on what gets presented at academic conferences.Report
It is simple enough to make these terms part of a contract required for attendance. Along with a requirement that all copies of papers or presentations be collected from the attendees at the end of the conference. Also, no talking to anyone during the conference and no note-taking.Report
People have been live tweeting conferences for over a decade with no commentary or pushback whatsoever. It’s totally normal behavior.Report
Normality is not a good guide to ethics or policy, and I remember a discussion of the appropriateness of live tweeting a few years back (no idea where). It may be normal but it’s not obvious to me it’s always okay. My own view is I don’t really know, and it’s probably fine in most cases, as long as the tweeting is not accusatory.Report
For me, the primary issue isn’t with live-tweeting conferences (although I think that’s not good behavior), but when what is tweeted is (1) not accurate, (2) known by the person who said it not to be accurate either immediately or very soon after it was said, and (3) not corrected.
When (1), (2) and (3) happen, it makes you question the motivations of the person who is live-tweeting. Why are they doing this? Is it to advance discourse or something else?
It also makes me worry about the impact this kind of behavior will have on other academics. If we know that someone is likely to tweet conference remarks and no one will call that person out if they do so in an inaccurate and possibly malicious way, how will that affect what people choose to say at conferences or if they will attend/participate at all?Report
Nothing wrong with commentary, as long as you don’t distort what the presenter said. It’s worse if you then fail to correct the misrepresentation on social media.Report
It’s sad to me that this conversation even needs to happen. And as unsurprising as it should be, I still find it shocking that philosophers — a group of reasonably intelligent people we have pretty reason to think are quite reflective — need to be told by others things like “don’t circulate private work publicly without the consent of the author.” This goes double for obvious truths no reasonable person should ever need to be explicitly told, like “You shouldn’t publicize misrepresentations of others’ work without peer review or the consent of those whose work you’re discussing,” and “it’s rude to use your phone to stimulate your Twitter-addled dopamine receptors in plain view of an invited speaker giving a talk,” and “it’s both unethical and unprofessional to publicize rude remarks and/or images of others without their knowledge or consent on a medium where they have no redress.”
Twitter is an absolute wasteland with no redeeming qualities. That philosophers use it at all is a sign that we have a very long ways to go towards attaining anything like real wisdom. I frankly find it hard even to have philosophical respect for others who engage in “philosophy Twitter” — especially those who do so in pernicious, unethical, pretentious, or sanctimonious ways. It’s junk food for the mind. Actually, it’s probably worse than that. Why on earth Twitter and other social media platforms have captured the public to the extent that they have is puzzling to me. How they also managed to capture philosophers is downright mystifying. What the hell does anyone get out of engaging on philosophy Twitter, especially to such a degree that it compromises their professionalism and renders them such that they need to be informed of absolute, rock-bottom common-sense stuff like the things I mentioned above?
Personally, I think we should have a norm against the use of Twitter at all in the profession. Grad school applications and job applications should include a section where people can list their social media handles, with every application turned in by someone dense enough to provide one immediately being thrown in the bin.Report
There’s already a solution to many of the worries here, which is the Chatham House Rule:
For just about all the meetings I organize—in technology ethics, esp. related to security and defense—we explicitly hold them under the Chatham House Rule so that folks can speak candidly on possibly sensitive or controversial issues.
The proposed norms in this post aren’t bad, but these two seem highly implausible as general norms, since that genie is out of the bottle:
If these norms are desired, then conferences can simply implement them for their own events and hope for broader adoption (if that’s even their business) and/or allow individual speakers to request that for their own talks, which could then be enforceable by organizers. Maybe they will never be adopted as general norms for all conferences, but that seems fine inasmuch as the targeted problems aren’t pervasive, only limited to specific incidents.
Anyway, different meetings have different sensitivities and security requirements, so a one-size-fits-all approach would likely be too much for most meetings. The Chatham House Rule is usually enough, and sensitive meetings typically have stricter protocols in place already.Report
I’m trying to figure out how this would work Patrick. Suppose I’m attending a conference and I tweet the following as it’s happening:
“Attending the [Conference Name] session where someone is arguing that apples are innately superior to oranges, [email protected]”
This doesn’t reveal the presenter’s identity or affiliation but those can be quickly inferred from the information actually given. Suppose further that the presenter *wasn’t* actually arguing that apples are innately superior to oranges and that this came up during the Q&A for the talk. Suppose lastly that I stayed for the Q&A and so I knew that my Tweet was attributing a false view to the (unnamed) presenter.
Assuming this would all be consistent witht he Chatham house rules…Do I have an obligation, under those rules to apologize? To retract the tweet? Both? Neither?Report
No, the Chatham House Rule doesn’t require anything more than what it says, and your question is out of its scope. The CHR isn’t trying to codify ethics but to strike a workable compromise between having no guardrails and overzealous regulation of speech and reporting back on a meeting.
On being able to quickly infer a presenter’s identity: sure, that could be possible in some cases. For instance, if there’s only one presenter speaking about x at a conference, and you tweet something about a talk about x, then ok, someone who’s familiar with the conference’s program (or who bothers to find the program online), might be able to deduce the speaker’s identity.
But in most cases, the CHR would seem sufficient and raises a real barrier to the kinds of reputational harm in question. Maybe other attendees of the same talk will know whom your tweet refers to, but that may be fine since they were there and presumably already know what’s up. But everyone else, incl. non-attendees, may have a more difficult time figuring out the person’s identity—and it’s not even clear why they would be motivated to investigate even a outrageous claim by some anonymous person in the first place.
For instance, I was just at an AI meeting earlier this week in Silicon Valley, where several very prominent experts predicted the death of capitalism as well as democracy in the near to mid future. If I had attributed that remark (or pick some other weird claim) to some person P, that might affect your opinion of P, esp. if you already know or are familiar with P. But since I didn’t, are you motivated at all to figure out who said it? Unlikely. And good luck finding out.
But if you were determined to find out, yeah, maybe you could with a lot of effort, though it’s unclear why you’d care enough in the first place. And that’s a risk with anything else: a determined person can circumvent just about any safeguard.
The CHR is not a perfect solution, and there is no perfect solution. For any proposal for conference rules to prevent the kinds of outcomes you might be imagining, I’ll bet I can identify important tradeoffs, such as a chilling effect on attendees in reporting back on a meeting of interest…Report
Thanks for the response Patrick. I think what this shows us is that the CH rules work best for larger conferences or events or for events whose schedules are already not easily available. However, a lot of philosophy conferences are pretty small, often one-room, affairs where the CH rules don’t seem to provide sufficient guidance.
They also don’t offer any guidance on the exact situation that led to the creation of this discussion and what our duties or obligations should be when we post something on social media for public ridicule that we, within an hour of posting, know is false. Is it wrong to keep such a post up, especially if it’s acquired modest virality? If it is wrong, is there any duty to make amends? Offer an apology?
I took Justin to be asking about what sorts of professional norms we want to publicly commit ourselves to when it comes to social media posting during conferences. Unless you think that the originating event was fine and that nothing more should be done, I’m struggling to understand how the CH rules would have really helped.
Anyone with even a modest presence on Twitter should know, for example, that a pseudo-anonmyous post about a specific conference presentation is likely to cause at least some of the people who follow you to find out who it is you’re posting about so the CH rules seem, to me, to be acting as moral cover to unleash the hounds onto a speaker while simultaneously saying that you’re upholding ethical social media posting norms.
I get the point of resisting a one-size approach for all conferences but I’m having a harder time seeing the resistance to a one-size approach when one scholar posts something intended to ridicule a colleague when they knew (or very quickly after posting discovered) that the post contains false information. Maybe this is just ordinary ethics and not a social media policy but isn’t minimally decent thing to do here to take down the post and publicly apologize, on the same platform, to the speaker one intended to ridicule?Report
This post specifically asks us to not comment about the particular dispute that may have inspired the post, which is what I think I’ve done in offering up the Chatham House Rule as a possible solution to a range of typical concerns about privacy in non-public meetings.
You seem to want to talk about that particular dispute, which I won’t get into here to respect Justin’s request, except to maybe agree that your line of questioning does seem more about “ordinary ethics” (and about a particular person) than about the conferencing norms. So, we’re straying from the prescribed lane of discussion here…Report
But Patrick…by CH rules I haven’t mentioned the particular dispute. Slighlty paraphrasing you, to make my point about the insufficiency of CH rules:
‘Maybe other [DN readers] will know whom [my post] refers to, but that may be fine since they were there and presumably already know what’s up. But everyone else, incl. non-[DN regulars], may have a more difficult time figuring out the person’s identity—and it’s not even clear why they would be motivated to investigate even a outrageous claim by some anonymous person in the first place.’
I’m not talking about *the* particular dispute but I’m talking very much about the general type of case of which the particular dispute is a token and which, at least as I understood is, was the whole reason for beginning this discussion about conference etiquette.
People livetweet, maybe they should and maybe they shouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask questions about:
We could just be subjectivists about all of this, that’s the easiest way out but then we wouldn’t need a discussion to do that. We could just keep on doing what we’ve already been doing. I understand Justin to be offering us an opportunity to try and do better than that.Report