Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tweckling - the negative side of conference back channels

I have previously written about public discussion forums which are often sabotaged by self-styled experts who enjoy humiliating any new members who dare to ask a simple honest question. These are nearly always anonymous users hiding behind a deliberately cryptic name and a picture of a cartoon character. Anonymity can foster brutality

Now we have a new term to add to the dozens already spawned by Twitter: namely tweckling. This means heckling a speaker by Twitter, especially at conferences. Many conferences use Twitter as an effective channel for audience participation, allowing participants the chance to comment on speakers, provide links to more information on the topic under discussion and for networking. However the tool can be used in a more destructive manner as described in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Conference Humiliation: They're tweeting behind your back. Here a speaker was criticized openly on the conference Twitter flow and was basically subjected to digital heckling. The audience can sit silently and apparently attentive whilst shouting down the speaker in the digital space. In some cases the presentation can be silently drowned out by the flow of wise cracks. The speaker, not having time to read the steady flow of comments, is powerless. Further examples of Twitter in class, both positive and negative, are in another Chronicle article, Teaching with Twitter: not for the faint of heart.

Of course it's not the fault of the tool, Twitter, but rather another example of the confusion between private and public communication. There's a big difference between writing a quick note to my neighbour that I don't think much of the speaker and broadcasting my views to the whole auditorium and the world. Let's keep the discussion respectful and open. If we're using social media professionally we should not hide our identity.

As a PS to this post I have just seen an article on CNN (Can the law keep up with technology?) discussing the problems the legal world is having dealing with developments in the digital space and in particular offensive remarks made on Twitter.

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