Landing : Athabascau University

#Twittergate: privacy, publicity, netiquette, and neoliberalism

As reported in an intriguing article in Inside Higher Ed, the practices and implications of "live-tweeting" during conference proceedings have become subject for a scholarly debate: #Twittergate. Naturally enough, a good deal of the debate has taken place via Twitter, and some of it is captured at this Storified aggregation:

#Twittergate: what are the ethics of live-tweeting at conferences?

This is an important debate in that it queries the navigation of private and public spaces, the relationship between liveness and recording, and the development of a netiquette adequate to the conditions and imperatives of increasingly neoliberal university culture. Last week I sent a couple tweets about a talk George Elliot Clarke was giving, but found myself holding off sharing some of the best statements, thinking they'd be better appreciated in context, in print, and thus also formalized and recognized as Clarke's own intellectual property.

On the other hand, the extent of quotation Twitter affords falls far short of what fair dealing readily allows - and in addition, 140 characters can't credibly "give away" the substance of even a working thesis. Twitter, I find, is a very good medium for translating a scholarly argument into a plain-spoken talking point, but what's lost in that translation process is always nuance, subtlety, and context.

On balance, I still think Twitter an important tool for scholars to engage the public with research - but netiquette is always in style too.#Twittergate has raised some valuable questions about tweeting at conferences, and chief among them might be that which asks whether this practice is really about communicating publicly valuable research results, or rather about the tweeting scholar's own individual and aspirational "branding" in a research culture increasingly colonized by neoliberal ideology and its instrumentalities. In the process of raising questions like this, #Twittergate is also floating and workshopping some netiquette norms, like the suggestion that a presenter should indicate at the outset whether live-tweeting is acceptable, and the suggestion that maybe panelists up at the front table but not presenting shouldn't themselves be live-tweeting.


  • Couldn't agree more that presenters should indicate their preference for live-tweeting during their sessions and that peer-panelists ought not to be live-tweeting from the panel.

    - Michael Shouldice

    an unauthenticated user of the Landing October 4, 2012 - 3:44pm

  • I don't see how 140 characters could be considered plain-spoken. I understand it can be useful for oneself putting ideas into context, but I am skeptical of the quaility of it as an outgoing communication especially to someone who is not at the conference and therefore does not have the context. I recognize that this could be a personal bias because I see tweeting used primarly a marketing tool and public relations tool. This of course assumes you are not using tweeting as a two way communication tool.

    From an etiquette perspective I do agree that panelists should devote their attention which does not preclude someone from following incoming tweets. I think it is a useful way of asking questions. As for the audience as long as the venue is open then they should tween if they want to.

    Eric von Stackelberg October 6, 2012 - 11:07am

  • I've bookmarked an article in The Guardian that provides some excellent, practical advice on best practices and courtesy for live-tweeting (and using other forms of social media) at academic conferences.

    Mark A. McCutcheon October 12, 2012 - 10:56am

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