Ray Shaw says live twitter feeds can have their drawbacks.

I was listening to a conference presenter whose content was fine but his strong Asian accent was not “engaging” when the live twitter feed sprang to life. “#STFU (translated Shut the f&*$k up) and “go home” set the ball rolling with what followed being the worst case of twitter abuse that I have ever seen.
It seemed that every tweet incited the audience to outdo the last. The speaker concentrating on delivery in a language not his own was blissfully unaware of the tweets – he simply saw an audience coming to life and hoped he had done that.
Later I heard that the feed had kept going with a few faceless twits and others who had not even attended the conference making ethnic and racist remarks, forcing the presenter to leave on the next plane instead of staying for the conference. This is appalling, immature, bully behaviour not worthy of so-called professionals.
In researching this article I came across lots of references to Twitter abuse (and prior to that blog abuse and prior to that forum abuse – Twitter is not alone). In fact, there are more than 1.45 billion Google results for “Twitter abuse”. Personally I have been at several conferences now where people have had their reputations sullied by thoughtless, anonymous twitter. And I believe there is a pending libel case against the organisers over one of these.
Then we read about model and television personality Charlotte Dawson who suffered a torrent of Twitter vitriol and abuse by a pack of sick bastards (they even have a less threatening, euphemistic word for them now – “cyber trolls”). Whilst Twitter has rules that users should not “post direct specific threats”, they stop at policing abusive messages and add “Twitter will not be held responsible”.
I am not bashing Twitter – it’s a fact of life and a tool that can be used for good and evil but it’s wide open for abuse. Don’t ask me how they do it but complete anonymity is apparently easy.
A Brisbane Lions footballer received so much Twitter abuse after an A-League grand final he had to remove his account. He is not alone – many celebrities have been abused and now their tweets are lost to their fans.
Facebook does not get away either in the abuse arena. A Tasmanian woman has suffered furious outbursts from cyber-trolls (I still prefer the term sick bastards), on her Facebook page who then stalked her to her office and tweeted obscenities.
Tasmania Police said they were increasingly receiving complaints about online postings but warned they often could not help. “Police are only able to take action to remove content where it is in breach of the criminal law, for example child exploitation images, and can only take prosecution action where the conduct is in breach of criminal law.”
An employee in the UK was sacked for gross misconduct after he posted offensive comments about a co-worker on Facebook. Those comments were construed as bullying by a Belfast tribunal stating “When he put his comments on his Facebook pages, to which members of the public could have access, he abandoned any right to consider his comments as being private”.
The moral of this article is that use of Facebook, Twitter or whatever must be controlled and moderated. PCOs and ACOs (amateur conference organisers) need to know what the technology can do and what the consequences of abuse is.
Rule #1 for conferences and events wanting to use it is to put a delay into the feed so it can be moderated. Fine you say but that means someone has to moderate it and unless they are willing volunteers that costs money. Not to mention that if they make a mistake and let something abusive slip through they can be considered as publishers of the comment and potentially legally liable.
Better still, don’t use twitter – use a closed system like the fabulous IML voting where its version of tweets can be tracked to a device and are unlikely to be abused.

Ray Shaw is managing director of MCI Australia. He can be contacted via email on Ray.Shaw@mci-group.com