Is it rude to tweet?

Earlier today Stephen Cook started discussion started on the CILIP Communities forum about the ethics of tweeting – in the context of the increased use of twitter at events, and the recent issues around tweets from the BA/Union negotiation meetings.

I started a response on the forums, but it got rather long, and also touched on a number of things I’ve been meaning to blog anyway, so here are some thoughts…

Private vs Public

Firstly to deal with the ethical question – the question of sharing confidential information in a public forum. It is clear to me that to share something told to you in confidence – whether individually or within a meeting or event – is unethical – and so far on the CILIP discsussion no one has disagreed with this. However, while some meetings are clearly closed and some clearly ‘public’ – there may be some circumstances that are less clear. For example, if you are attending an event held by a vendor specifically for their customers, how much of what is said might be intended for customers only, and how much can be shared with others? I think individuals who are reporting such events (by whatever medium) need to consider this. As a personal example, I often blog events I’m at, and I have once been asked to amend a post because I’d shared something that wasn’t intended (at that time) for public consumption – I was happy to take it down.

Are computers distracting?

The question of distraction often comes up – but I feel many conflate the use of a computer, with the activity being carried out on the computer. When I started taking a laptop to conferences it was purely to type notes – my handwriting was, and is, appalling, and I can type quickly (as an aside, learning to touch type was one of the most useful things I’ve ever done!).

Having started typing notes, I then decided I may as well publish them on my blog – it was a convenient place to put them (I can always go back and find the stuff I wrote by date, or by event), it was easy to share with colleagues, and of course the wider world.

More recently I’ve started to tweet (sometimes as well as, sometimes instead of, blogging)

I find it hard to see that this has changed how distracting I am as I type away on my keyboard – but I can see that typing away on my keyboard could be distracting – I’d say creates more noise than if I used paper.

Some recent events have started to have a ‘quiet area’ available for those who don’t want to find themselves sitting next to someone busy clattering away on their keyboard – which seems a reasonable compromise, but possibly only practical in a larger venue.

Is it rude to do things other than pay attention to the speaker?

Some would say yes, some would say no. I’m not sure there is any way around this I’m afraid. While for some doing other things while someone is speaking – whether it is passing notes on the back row, or broadcasting your thoughts to the world – is just rude. The speaker has made the effort to come and talk, and the least the audience can do is pay attention.

For others it is OK to do other things as long as it is relevant to what the speaker is saying – for example engaging with comment and discussion about the issues the speaker is raising.

And for others, if the speaker isn’t holding their interest, or they have other things to do that they feel are important, they think it is OK to ignore the speaker and get on with something else (work or play)

Honestly, I’ve done all three of these – although the final category I’d struggle to defend as not rude in some way – but on the otherhand I can say that sometimes being reachable on email by colleagues etc is what has made it possible for me to attend certain events – so I guess I’m saying that it is rude, but perhaps not unjustifiably rude in all cases.

Do you miss stuff because you are blogging/tweeting etc.

Speaking personally – yes – I do. Sometimes I’m busy making a note of what the speaker has just said, and replying to online comments, and I do miss the next point being made. I see this as a compromise – since at the same time I’ve missed something from the speaker, I may well have had my understanding of what the speaker has said previously illuminated by an online comment. It really is swings and roundabouts.

I’d also say that the truly great speakers I’ve see have defied my ability to tweet/blog etc. In some cases they’ve held my attention so absolutely that I’m not willing to miss a moment. In other cases what they bring as a speaker – charisma, charm, presence, etc. – cannot be caught (by me at least) in writing – the presentation is not about what they say, but how they say it. An example of this was seeing Tim Smit talk – you can see how I struggled to blog this.

and finally …

A couple of thoughts to finish off.

Firstly, it is easy to make a mis-step in public when using social media – when everything you write is public. Sometimes you may feel speakers are not very good, and the temptation to share that to a circle of friends is immense. It is easy to forget that you may have an audience larger than the people you know – for example the speaker themselves may see your comment. I had some experience of this when I made some snide comment online about a TV programme – ‘Only Connect‘. I was mortified when someone involved in the programme tweeted me back with a comment defending it. I hadn’t intended my comment to be ‘public’ in that way, and I’d forgotten, for a moment, that my online audience wasn’t just the people I knew (and over time I’ve come to really enjoy Only Connect!).

Lastly I believe event organisers and speakers have to take responsibility for engaging with these new channels of communication, and how they are managed. There is a great blog post from Andy Powell on eFoundations about his recent experience chairing a session with lots of virtual activity and the challenges it presents. There is also some really good stuff in this post (and comments) on the Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog by Marieke Guy.

5 thoughts on “Is it rude to tweet?

  1. SOme nice thoughts.
    What I particularly like is the fact you’re stressing that we’re all different – that while some will find anything other than rapt attention rude (not sure what they think about someone handwriting notes [relevant to the presentation?!], others will be OK with someone taking notes / tweeting / live blogging.

    I appreciate the point that some may find typing noisy; guess that’s something that does have to be considered!

    My personal view is that I generally use my laptop for notetaking – which can end up in some tweeting; but mayn’t.
    However, if I’m the only person doing it & espeically if it’s not an area when I feel that there are many geeks in the audience – and if the speaker looks uncomfy, then I minimise it as much as I can.

  2. Hi Owen
    Personally, I don’t think it’s rude to Tweet at events if you are actually noting what the speaker is saying and that’s what you’re tweeting.

    Up until a few months ago I wasn’t convinced about tweeting at events if you were reading the tweets as an outsider to the event – it was difficult to follow, especially if a few people were tweeting and responding to comments other Twitter users had posted. However, with the use of services like Twapperkeeper, it’s a good way of seeing what went on – I’ve downloaded Twapperkeeper files for events before and filtered out the tweets that I don’t find relevant.

    From the point of view of taking notes, I find tweeting very useful. I find that I can get down the key points more easily/quickly than if I was writing them by hand and I don’t have to retype them when I get back to the office. I miss less of the talk as well, because I’m quicker at typing than writing with a pen.

    I imagine it might be a bit annoying for some people to hear the clickety click of my mobile device as I tweet, but I think if I’m expected to take notes less productively via paper and pen at events primarily dealing with technology, then that seems a bit mad.

  3. I have nothing of value to add, other than I agree.

    I tap away, sometimes loose track, sometimes do something completely different on my laptop because (a) the current talk (or this bit of the talk) is not of interest (b) some thing urgent at work has come up which needs fixing (this has happened (c) no excuse, just got distracted by a link/email.

    I sit as my desk a lot watching others tweet at event and find it very useful.


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