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Trial by Twitter

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A couple of things have started to get me thinking about the nature of real-time discussion of an event over Twitter. Umair Haque’s interview of Evan Williams (@ev) of Twitter got hammered in real-time on Twitter to a worldwide audience following the SXSW conference. A number of weeks earlier, I had participated in a discussion hosted by Amnesty International where a ‘Twitterwall’ was projected behind a panel discussion. The criticism in that case was much more muted.

I found the whole process very interesting however since it was like silent heckling, and like a good heckler it doesn’t take much to turn the audience against the stage in a mob mentality. This is nothing new, conference channels on IRC have been havens of snark for years, but Twitter makes this more visible, more participatory and quickly becomes mob-like diminishing responsibility.

The speaker’s role is becoming more like that of a good club DJ, having to keep a better eye on the dynamics of the audience and adjusting their pace and tonality on the real-time feedback. The old adage of respect is earned, not commanded is now extended to conferences and I don’t think that its a bad thing.