Defending ‘no-tweeting/blogging’ requests at conferences

Twitter and blogs have in the recent years become a platform for spreading information heard at conferences. Short notes (maximal 140 characters for tweets) tell those of use who were not present at the conference what people talked about. I find this a fantastic way to keep updated at what is going on at the forefronts of science, especially as I can’t attend all conferences of interest. In return, I tend to contribute on twitter myself when I am at a meeting. also, as a principle, all of my talks are tweetable and I put my slides online for all to enjoy (unless a collaborator rather not have me do that).

The 'No reporting of any kind allowed for this content' symbol at the AGBT conference

From agbt.org

However, some speakers do not want the content of their talk to be spread in this way. Some conferences have policies explicitly allowing opt-out or opt-in statements by speakers. For example, the picture shows the ‘No reporting of any kind allowed for this content’ symbol at the AGBT conference I am currently attending.

On twitter and at the bar, this leads to different reactions. Very often, people will say that it does not make sense to forbid tweeting/blogging when you are talking about the work in a room full of people. Why restrict what you are saying to the people who are present? Similarly, it would make no sense to fear stealing of your ideas or being scooped, as you anyway share them with many researchers who can go home and redo/reuse your work.

I would counter that with the following. First, tweets and blog posts retelling the talk are filtered through the eye of the tweeter/blogger. This runs the risk of misinterpretations, and – particular for the short tweets – representing the content out of context, or even simply erroneous. When talking to your audience, you are in control of, and responsible for, the content and context (even though your listeners still may misrepresent your talk later). On twitter and blogs, you have no control over what is being said. Usually, this is not a problem, but it is a real risk that speakers may worry about.

Secondly, I suspect some researcher simply not liking the idea of having what they said broadcast to the world. Fear of the unknown. Unnecessary, but understandable.

So, let’s respect the wishes of the presenters at conferences when they say ‘no’ to sharing the content of their talk to social media. I would argue, however, that saying something about how you experienced the talk would be fine (but behave, OK?). Also, when the agenda of the meeting is online, it is of course allowed to tweet the title of the talk and the name of the speaker.

By the way, I encourage all speakers with no-social media talks use open access journals for publication to compensate 🙂

Let me know if I missed an argument for or against no-social-media policies in the comments!

P.S. James Hadfield just put up a post on the subject here.

EDIT let me take away any doubt about my position: I am very supportive of tweeting and blogging conference talks (and posters) and will always encourage people to do so. There is enormous benefits to be had from sharing science on social media!

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25 thoughts on “Defending ‘no-tweeting/blogging’ requests at conferences

  1. “First, tweets and blog posts retelling the talk are filtered through the eye of the tweeter/blogger. This runs the risk of misinterpretations, and – particular for the short tweets – representing the content out of context, or even simply erroneous. When talking to your audience, you are in control of, and responsible for, the content and context (even though your listeners still may misrepresent your talk later). On twitter and blogs, you have no control over what is being said. Usually, this is not a problem, but it is a real risk that speakers may worry about.”

    This is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Each scientist in the conference is allowed to call others, or go back to the university and discuss what they heard with colleagues and students. Every such interaction is expected to do what you mentioned – “misinterpretation”, “representing content out of context”, being “erroneous”. A scientist afraid of tweets + blogs should also restrict those forms of communications. In fact, tweets and blogs are likely to reduce the form of miscommunication mentioned above. It is far better to check blogs+tweets from multiple viewers to judge what was being said than hearing it second hand from a single attendee.

    Nice try, but….

    • The difference is that the tweet or blog is online for the whole world to see, instantly available (probably forever) for everyone who is online. I agree that tweets and blogs may reduce misinterpretation, but there is (off?) chance of the opposite.

  2. I still don’t buy it.

    > “First, tweets and blog posts retelling the talk are filtered through the eye of the tweeter/blogger. This runs the risk of misinterpretations, and – particular for the short tweets – representing the content out of context, or even simply erroneous. When talking to your audience, you are in control of, and responsible for, the content and context (even though your listeners still may misrepresent your talk later). On twitter and blogs, you have no control over what is being said. ”

    When people discuss the talk at the bar (the AGBT bar, or weeks later at home or at another conference), they’re necessarily filtering the talk through their own eyes, biases and inaccuracies included. The speaker will never be in control of the content and spirit of discussions had outside the meeting room, regardless of whether those conversations take place in person, or online. By contrast, committing your thoughts and opinions to a written record online engenders some degree of accountability. Lior Pachter’s recent blog posts illustrate this point exactly – Lior didn’t go around privately bashing the Barzel and Feizi papers behind closed doors at lab meetings or at the conference bar. There’s a semi-permanent written record of the open dialog that keeps people honest and accountable for what they’re saying about what they heard at a conference, read in a paper, etc. Sure, someone could post/Tweet anonymously, but any speaker who is seriously offended at a questions or misunderstandings promulgated by an anonymous online account likely has some reason to doubt the strength and veracity of the research they’re presenting.

    • committing your thoughts and opinions to a written record online engenders some degree of accountability

      I agree in principle, and will always encourage people to allow sharing via social media. I just acknowledge and respect the fear of some of us who would rather not have their talk tweeted/blogged.

  3. Sadly, the main reason (imho) people don’t allow tweets/blogging of their talks is because they do not understand what it means to do so, and don’t appreciate how science communication is now moving forward. Unfortunately, speakers that don’t encourage tweeting are probably also equally ignorant of the impact of social networks in science. Fortunately, AGBT is erring on the positive side, and formerly has an opt-out policy, so even people unclear/uninformed on tweeting will not declare ‘no-tweet” … I think those of us in favor of these new modes of science communication must take some of our time to educate many of our colleagues … unfortunately, they will probably not read this post, so will need to do it in tweatable face-2face presentations!

  4. Let me also present the positives of tweeting and blogging through a real-life example. In 2013, Steven Salzberg presented on the conifer genome assembly. We contacted him privately and he was kind to share information about the specific assembly as well as on a new assembler named MaSurCA developed by by Jim Yorke’s group.

    We wrote a number of blog posts on both the pine assembly and MaSurCA assembler, and researchers from Hong Kong and Russia, who could not attend the #BOG13 conference, learned and discussed about cutting-edge research being conducted by Salzberg and Yorke. For that matter, we did not attend the conference ourselves, but came to know about his talk from the tweets of others.

    Steven Salzberg at #bog13: Assembling 22Gb Conifer Genome

    On MaSuRCA Paper and Algorithm

    If nobody tweeted or blogged, none of the above would have happened. Given that presenters at the conference are presenting to promote their work, the above example shows a clear case of how that ‘promotion’ gets enhanced by allowing tweets and blogs.

  5. OR we could get rid of all of this nonsense about misinterpretation, bias and misrepresentation by just livestreaming the audio and video through YouTube. Hell, I’d even pay $500 for access to such content through Livestream! This is not rocket science. A good laptop pointing at the slides and a decent microphone can achieve this for under $1000 and provide untold benefit to the community. Especially to those of us that paid $2000 to go to the conference but got screwed by the weather and now have to suffer through the tweet stream and embargoes.

    • Sorry, meant a good camera connected to a laptop. I wasn’t implying they use a built in laptop web cam 😉 Anyway, they already have the recording infrastructure in place so streaming the content is well within their capacity. Or even allow conference goers to view archived video of the event – CSHL started doing this 6 years ago.

  6. In my experience, the main reasons speakers opt out of allowing tweets of their talk is nor fear of misrepresentation or being scooped. It is (a) their work is unpublished, under review, or in press, and they fear the journal in question could withdraw their manuscript because they were courting advance publicity; or (b) the talk contained clinical data that the speaker does not feel comfortable broadcasting beyond the conference itself. You may criticize the journals for their stated policies w.r.t (a) — even though I can’t pinpoint any clear examples where manuscripts were withdrawn because of prior social media buzz — but I can’t really fault a speaker opting for caution on that score.

  7. In addition to the journal embargo, the other reason I can see for asking people not to live tweet is to get them to put down their phones and laptops and pay attention to the talk. It can be very irritating to a speaker to have half the audience reading their e-mail, viewing porn, or laughing at their twitter feeds instead of paying attention to the talk. The benefits of live tweeting are overwhelmed by the distractions of people who think that they can multitask.

      • I have no objection to people live tweeting my talks, but from what I’ve seen at conferences, 90% of those with phones, tablets, or laptops in front of them are not paying attention to the speaker. Prohibiting electronic distractors for the audience makes some sense to me, though the specific prohibition on live tweeting does not.

    • So you want to ban technology all together because you find it distracting as a speaker?

      1) Not everyone is going to think what you have to say is interesting
      2) It’s not the audience’s job to sit with hands folded, doe-eyed, and hanging on your every word
      3)You’re the presenter, the onus is on YOU to keep their attention. If they’re not engaged, it’s probably your fault (Or see #1).

      • Brian, why do you keep saying “you”? I have never stopped anyone from live tweeting a talk, nor have I asked an audience to stop looking at their e-mail. Other than one or two loser students who never pay attention to anyone, my audiences generally pay attention to me.

        I was explaining why some speakers may not want people in the audience distracted by their electronic toys—you seem to feel that it is the job of the speakers to be more entertaining. But conferences only work if both the speakers and the audience put in the effort to communicate, otherwise everyone should just go home.

  8. Gasstationwithoutpumps, Definitely that is a very good point. In fact, I personally lack the skills to live tweet, while paying attention to talks etc. That is why in the PacBio user meeting I covered last year, I merely managed to take notes and then write a blog post after thinking through everything over next 3-4 days.

    However, I wish the authors were more comfortable about sharing slides. Moreover, if conferences add youtube videos (does not have to be live), this whole issue of tweeting will go away.

  9. “2) It’s not the audience’s job to sit with hands folded, doe-eyed, and hanging on your every word”

    On that, I would say that a talk can be considered equivalent to a musical performance, or at least some good speakers take it that way. Distracted audience does de-motivate speaker as much as half the audience going to sleep after first three minutes.

    To that, you may say ‘hell with good speakers’ and let us put everyone with teleprompters 🙂

  10. I don’t buy these reasons at all. As has been said above, misrepresentation is more likely to happen at the conference bar, and Twitter and Blogs help researchers to escape from their own filter bubble (that is, the conference buddies who all agree on the same ,maybe misunderstood, messages of a talk ).

    However, I have another reason to respect a speaker’s wish to not live-tweet during the talk. For some speakers it is distracting and nerve wracking to talk to a crowd of people who are not making eye contact with the speaker, but are looking down to their devices, frantically tweeting about every word he / she says.

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