The use of Twitter to digitally shout down a speaker at the recent Web 2.0 Expo (see previous post) has produced a lot of welcome debate about how the relative anonymity of the net allows some people to behave in a thoroughly disrespectful manner. The speaker at that conference, Danah Boyd of Microsoft Research, has written an admirably honest analysis of the presentation on her blog Apophenia, Spectacle at Web 2.0 expo ... from my perspective.
She was unable to see the Twitter flow during her presentation but felt increasingly uncomfortable as members of the audience laughed without apparent reason. Unaware of the wisecracks and derogatory remarks going on behind her back her presentation suffered accordingly. The back channel had taken centre stage and she was powerless. Of course if someone had actually asked a question or made a direct comment she could have reacted and dealt with the issue but that didn't happen.
The issue is of course one of respect. If you're using Twitter or other such tools professionally isn't it best to include a photo of yourself and adopt a name that is close to your own. I don't see the point of hiding your identity, especially at a conference where the whole point is to interact and meet people. If you are identifiable you are accountable for your comments and people can easily see who is disrupting the session.
This topic has certainly sparked off a debate and Danah's blog post has so far received 105 comments.