Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blogged

Not so long ago, I co-organized a Science Workshop on a particular topic. At some point after the workshop, I saw - by chance - a link to a webpage that seemed like it was closely related to the workshop topic. In fact, the link was to a blog post by one of the workshop participants who had blogged the workshop. He had described the workshop activities in great detail, and had uploaded photographs of the workshop in progress, including at least one photograph of me (identified by name in the caption). I had no idea he had done any of this.

Fortunately the blogger had enjoyed the workshop and found it worthwhile, so the blog post was positive and was mostly a blow-by-blow account of the workshop activities. In fact, it was kind of boring (unlike the workshop itself).

Nevertheless -- and this might be hypocritical -- it was strange reading a blog post that was at least in part about me. I blog about academic incidents and people all the time, including anecdotes about people I meet at conferences, but the difference is that I don't name names -- or include photographs of actual people.

I had no idea anyone was blogging the workshop, although I know that syn- and post-conference blogging is a common phenomenon now for meetings of all sorts and sizes. Should we all just expect that we might be the topic of a blog post or a tweet or whatever mode our fellow conferees might be using to describe their experiences to the rest of the world? And at any time, should we expect that someone might take a photograph of me or you or our students or postdocs and post it, captioned with names, on the internet?

I was a little weirded out by it at first, but -- perhaps because the blog post was unexceptional and positive -- I found that I didn't really mind. I think it would have been nice if the blogger had asked if he could post a photograph of me, and it would have been even nicer if it were a better photograph. But he certainly didn't need my permission to write about the workshop; this was not the type of workshop or meeting at which such things are specifically prohibited.

Is everyone OK with being blogged about in a professional context like this? With having a photograph taken without your knowledge, labeled with your name, and posted without your knowledge? With having the content of what you thought was an informal conversation described (accurately) in a blog post and attributed to you, without your knowledge? Or does anyone think there should be Rules about this?

32 comments:

Materialist said...

My expectation for a registered workshop is that it will be a private space - so no quotes or photos unless I'm specifically warned.
In a public forum I feel like my consent to such things is implied.
A workshop to me implies learning and maybe some fumbling in the process - I wouldn't want to be restricted in my query because of fear of saying something wrong.

Anthea said...

I'm a bit freaked out by this possibility. I can understand having my photograph taken if I’m giving a public talk and what I said recorded but I’d like to know that it’s going to be used in a blog. Are there rules? I’d say that there should be conventions to be honest.

William said...

Yes, I think blogging a professional event, pictures included, should be perfectly acceptable. The author of the blog should try and ask permission, especially where photos and talk details are concerned, but may skip this step if it would be too difficult (for example, a conference with many speakers).

Gears said...

I think there has to be some rules about it. If this person knew they were going to blog the event, it should have at least come up in passing (especially for self promotion). Describing a conversation about the conference isn't so bad, but I think with photos, you should have to ask permission.

Anonymous said...

Well, I know at least for classes, taking photos is not acceptable (and, yes, I have had multiple students pull out their phones and start snapping pictures of me, even when I don't have any slides up). So I think the same principle ought to apply to registered workshops (again, things are different if it's public). Also, to post your picture online (public or not), the blogger should give permission.

Wesley Calvert said...

There *are* Rules, and they're the same rules that have applied from ages of ages.

1. Don't behave in public as if you're in private.

2. Don't say stuff you wouldn't be proud to have heard.

3. Always look good enough to be seen.


In the old days, if you violated these rules, people present would notice, and were entirely within their rights to tell others (even if it might be bad form). Now if you violate these rules, people present notice, and are entirely within their rights to tell others, even though it's still bad form.

On the other hand, if you obey these rules, people who see you will notice, and will tell others. And in a profession where rep is currency, that's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

What mechanism is there for enforcing any rules on the internet about anything like this (i.e., apart from actual violation of laws)? I think the most we can ask for is collegiality and some kind of social norms. Beyond that, I'm afraid we have to assume that everything is effectively public - just like don't put anything you really want to keep secret in an email.

Miss Outlier said...

Since most of what I write about on my blog are my experiences, I can understand writing about a conference. I've done that, and I've included photos of the hotel and landscape surroundings. But never people or identifiable posters.

I wonder - would you have been less uncomfortable if the blogger HADN'T put your name in the caption? Or is it better that they acknowledged who you were?

Anonymous said...

2. Don't say stuff you wouldn't be proud to have heard.

There must be room in science for discussions in which participants admit ignorance and ask stupid questions. These should not, in general, be blogged, unless everyone is anonymous.

rachelpio said...

"There must be room in science for discussions in which participants admit ignorance and ask stupid questions. These should not, in general, be blogged, unless everyone is anonymous."

But shouldn't it then be OKAY to ask stupid questions, and to have everyone know that you occasionally do ask stupid questions and admit ignorance because EVERYONE should occasionally do this?

Really, I wish science were more like this because then I wouldn't feel uncomfortable and stupid so often...


and with regard to the original post, I can sort of see doing it (I definitely talk about real life people on my blog, but so far haven't posted any pictures, and I would ask first), but on the other hand I can DEFINITELY see feeling weird about finding a photo of me I didn't know existed, on the internet, with my name attached. I generally agree with what Gears said--it probably should have come up in conversation before being posted, especially for self-promotion purposes!

a physicist said...

I hate to say this, but I suspect that this will become ever more common. And while I agree that standards would be worthwhile, I think standardless blogging of events with photos and quotes will continue. And bad photos and mis-quotes.

Anonymous said...

This is so extraordinarily common in my field that I'm somewhat shocked by your surprise. People are generally nice and thoughtful, but this is regarded as a pretty standard thing, whether by blog or Twitter.

It only becomes a big deal when it's not nice, a la what happened to danah boyd in 2009: she was speaking and people were criticizing her talk on Twitter, which was displayed on a screen behind her http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2009/11/24/spectacle_at_we.html

It surprised me the first time this happened to me, but if I'm speaking in public or at a conference, I think my comments are fair game. (I take is a compliment if something I says gets tweeted and re-tweeted.)

Anonymous said...

Don't professional societies do this all the time? (at least the picture with a caption part?) Mine is forever sending out newsletters with pictures labeled, "Dr. X and Dr. Y discussing a poster during the Annual Meeting." I've seen labeled pictures of myself I didn't know were taken, and other than wishing it were a better picture, I never thought much about it.

Being quoted without your knowledge is a little weirder, but if it's something you said from a podium during a seminar (as opposed to something you told someone while washing your hands in the restroom) I think it's fine.

Female Computer Scientist said...

Don't say stuff you wouldn't be proud to have heard.

Or, worse, don't say anything in public or private ever that you're not proud to have permanently recorded and available to the entire world, forever, easily found with a Google search.

I think it's ridiculous that people seem to err on the side of "ask for forgiveness" rather than permission when it comes to posting photographs, videos, and textual descriptions of things people say, with their full names attached, in semi-private settings. They seem to not understand how search engine indexing works, or perhaps don't understand not everyone comes from the twitter generation and maybe doesn't want their life described play-by-play on the internet.

Not only should there be rules about this, there should be laws about this. I loathe the unregulated surveillance society we find ourselves in.

Anonymous said...

I *always* assume people are blogging or tweeting when I'm presenting. I put my Twitter handle and the event's hashtag (if there is one) really big on the intro screen of every presentation. That way, if they're polite, they'll mention me in their tweet, and I'll be able to easily see what they say, and maybe even address points of confusion if I also have Twitter up in the background in real time. (As an aside, this is also a really great way to get "anonymous" questions from students in your class while you're teaching.)

Of course, if the person isn't polite, I won't get a mention, but I try not to spend a lot of time worrying about the citing habits of jerks. :P And blogs can be harder to trace, because they don't have the immediate feedback component of Twitter, but if I can't pull it up with a quick Google search afterward, then I don't consider it to be too much of an issue. And if I do pull up a blog afterward that has a horrid picture of me on it, I would feel completely in my rights suggesting a new one for them to use, possibly from another blogging attendee. :)

Workshops are a teensy bit different, but I still don't expect things said in front of a whole room of people to be "private." Again, I think polite people will show some discretion in naming names when/if they quote attendees' questions (which I mostly just find unnecessary), and stressing about the potential habits of potential rude people is a waste of energy.

Of course, I do know for a fact that at least one of my invited talks was directly the result of having my name out there in this way, so maybe that accounts for my relatively favorable outlook. :)

Anonymous said...

I think it's time we get used to this. This has happened to me at least twice now, one of the blogs fueled a bigger media story on my research (which related to content in the workshop) so I got to benefit from the bloggers appreciation of my workshop. In a way it's check on the quality and content of our workshop, bloggers keep us honest and working hard :).

Namnezia said...

I'm surprised you were weirded out by this, after your story about the note-taking, suitcase-riffling student stalker you had...

Catherine said...

I'm in computer science. I run one of *those* projects. The ones that get just enough popular media attention that we have a popular following. It generates an interest in me, my blog, my twitter feed, etc.

Over the years I've learned to deal with it. Several years ago, a project of mine was the top story (with graphic) on my university's home page. At the time, I had a personal blog under a pseudonym that I believed was unlinked to my real name. The next day, I found people I didn't know commenting in that blog about the homepage post. This was the point where I developed split online identities and keep all of my personal writing locked.

When I'm speaking at a conference or company, running a symposium, or in any way representing my project I fully expect that anything I say can end up on the internet.

Female Science Professor said...

I have no problem with the science I present at a conference showing up in a blog, even if the conference is a small, focused workshop. I was weirded out that the blogger went beyond that and wrote about informal interactions (naming names) and posted candid photos, taken without the subjects' knowledge or consent.

Female Computer Scientist said...

I think a lot of the problem is about expectations of privacy and ephemerality. Somehow in the past few years we have moved into a state where *everything* in the public/semi-private sphere has become a press conference.

It's sadly reaching the point where I expect no privacy whatsoever when giving a lecture regardless of the audience size. If it's a large crowd, I am not particularly surprised by photographs, videos, tweets, or blog posts happening in real time.

But I have attended smaller social functions with colleagues who have cameras that take photos, upload them automatically to facebook, and attempt to auto-identify the faces and tag them using people on their friends' list. As one colleague put it, "This is making parties un-fun." Honestly it makes everything unfun. I mean, if it was tagged "F. C. Scientist", fine, but all this stuff with my full name attached? Honestly it's creepy and weird.

I fear the only way to 'opt out' of this panopticon is to stay home and shut the blinds. At least until the law catches up with technology.

Anonymous said...

"At least until the law catches up with technology."

It probably won't, at least for non-litigious people. Celebrities might be able to protect their photos and get people in their private lives to sign non-disclosure agreements.

The rest of us can object when pictures are being taken (if you notice). But, once the picture is taken, it's unlikely that you'll have much power to prevent its dissemination, and aren't likely to have time to deal with it.

Conferences/workshops are allowed to enforce rules about photography A major conference in my field explicitly states that photos/videos are not allowed, and the security has the right to enforce the rule in the private venue.

So, if I were running a conference, I'd decide what the rules should be, and I would inform the attendees about those rules. I probably wouldn't rigorously enforce them, though, so you'd still have to know that people might publicize the information.

The flatness of access to the media is great. It means that people are re-posting videos of the protests in Iran, and have the ability to do so. It also means that your conversation with a collaborator (a not very nice one) could be re-posted, and that you can really only rely on social forces to prevent it. I wouldn't be willing to change the law because when comparing the two, allowing the first is more important to me than preventing the second.

Ruchira Datta said...

We included suggested guidelines in our paper "Live Coverage of Scientific Conferences Using Web Technologies" http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pcbi.1000563

Liz in Ypsilanti said...

I recently took a non-science workshop offered by someone who is running a small business out of her home and is offering the workshops as a sideline. A couple of days after the workshop, I mentioned it on my blog, talked about how much I had learned, and included a link to her website. I then sent her an e-mail telling her what I had done and giving her permission to quote me in any promotional materials. She was gratified to get this exposure (a dozen people or so read my blog, so it's not huge).

I saw it as a way of helping a local small business and broadening the creative community in my area. I think the answer to FSP's question has to do with context and content as well as courtesy to the presenter.

Ruchira Datta said...

My link to our paper seems to have gotten munged. Try pasting the DOI at http://dx.doi.org instead: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000563

Minos said...

I would suggest the following thought experiment. Try inserting "speech", "said", "repeated", or "told to someone else" everywhere "blogged", "posted" or "tweeted" turns up in such situations. We've long been accustomed to the idea that anything we say, even in a semi-private setting, might enter the whisper circuit.

The obvious difference here is that the *speaker* who repeats your words (or in this case, an image)does not control your audience, the audience itself decides whether to listen (Google you, etc.).

I think those calling for new norms have it right. This *will* require new social norms. But the new social norms won't lie in the direction of a more closed conversation space. They will lie, as rachelpio so eloquently put it, in the direction of it being more okay to ask stupid questions.

You're seeing some of that transformation now, as Public Person X is discovered to have tweeted in 2008 that, "sometimes, I think we should put stupid people in a blender," and there is a bru-ha-ha that begins as if s/he had written a "Morons to the Blender" position paper, and ends with most reasonable people saying, "come on...it was a one-off tweet in 2008! Who hasn't tweeted something dumb and offensive?!?"

In particular, in science, I think a more open ethic will, after some initial tut-tutting, result in people who ask *good* dumb questions in public getting reputations for being "outside the box thinkers" and "innovative personalities". Unfortunately, this, like everything else, will have a gender slant. Male scientists will have been seen by some as having asked a "thought provoking question" and female scientists will be seen by same as having asked a "dumb question". But that's hardly a reason to be anti-public-dumb-question...it's all the more reason to normalize it to the level that it loses gender valence.

Anonymous said...

I think expectations of privacy are also cultural. For example, I do not live in America. Taking photos of specific people at many (but not all) public events without their general agreement or understanding of the situation is pretty much NOT OK, even if they are not identified by name. Generally, a photogrpaher would ask. Taking a broad shot of a crowd would raise few eyebrows, although it is true that at political rallies nobody likes it, as national security organisations have been known to take such footage ( in a liberal democratic country). Nonetheless, in some situations it would be fine: eg a rock concert. In others, it is generally not, eg funerals, and probably conferences, apart from keynote speaker talks. Here, people generally have the right to say no. Carrying out actions that trample over people's individual rights without offering what we would call due respect to the other person involved are often thought of as typical of 'Americans'.

Anonymous said...

"With having a photograph taken without your knowledge, labeled with your name, and posted without your knowledge? "

this happens on facebook all the time. I hate it. I have to keep untagging myself from other people's facebook photos

Isabel said...

". I mean, if it was tagged "F. C. Scientist", fine, but all this stuff with my full name attached? Honestly it's creepy and weird"

I just suggested on a thread over at Scientopia that search committees googling candidates and looking at Fb photos etc seems creepy, even unethical, to me, like a sneaky way around asking very personal questions. I'm not sure I would feel comfortable doing so if I was on a search committee. Why bother, anyway?

Also, the advice to watch what you put on line is not helpful, as it is impossible to control what others do. Fb seems to be getting more intense. I just hid my friends list, so people can't indirectly stalk me so easily, but I felt a little paranoid doing so...you can't win it seems!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't like it and I don't like the thought of it at all. I am generally pretty aware, try not to get into facebook pics etc but this sounds like the pics were taken without any warning. I am not saying anything can be done but I just don't like the idea.

Anonymous said...

The photo with your name on it is crossing a line. Commenting on the session is different thing. However, the blogger should as a common courtesy let you know they're blogging. If this person were a member of the press writing a news story, you'd want to know they were in the room. Right?

Anonymous said...

I, too, am surprised that you were "weirded out" by having candid photos labeled and posted. In my field, candid photos are even solicited by the conference organizers and reams of these are then posted on-line on the conference website. Sometimes they are edited and sometimes not, and sometimes labeled, and sometimes not. This is simply an extension and evolution of our previous practice of publishing candid shots, captioned with names, in the hardcopy conference proceedings. The subjects' approval to publish these was never sought.

Female Science Professor said...

I've never minded it when there have been photographers roaming around large conferences snapping candid photos and publishing/posting them. In the case I described in the post, I suppose I was bothered the fact that the workshop was quite small and I had a fair amount of interaction with the blogger, who was secretive about taking photos of people, much less being open about his intention to post the images. These seem like significant differences to me.