The Dos and Don’ts of Live-Tweeting at an Academic Conference: An Update

A few weeks ago, I asked our readers to help me tackle an issue raised at the annual meeting—the lack of etiquette for live-tweeting. The response to our working draft was overwhelming, but also intriguing (you can read the conversation in totality here). Many of the topics raised by readers intersect with our own Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct, including issues of privacy, attribution, and professional conduct.


Although we can agree that social media is transforming the way historians interact, debate, and ultimately generate scholarship, the current debate over live-tweeting suggests that academics still want a traditional form of professional standards to guide new media and  ensure a healthy and mutually beneficial form of scholarly debate.

Below is a revised list, including new additions supplied by our AHA Today readers. Although this list is by no means a formal set of guidelines, I hope historians can use it as a bridge as we continue the discussion of ethics in social media practices.

Do:

  • Ask permission. Before the panel begins (preferably a few weeks in advance), ask panelists whether they agree to be tweeted. Contributed by Claire Potter on AHA Today.
  • Clearly identify speakers. Although live-tweeting demands rapid fire tweets, all tweets should clearly identify the speaker quoted in each tweet. Contributed by Caleb McDaniel on AHA Today.
  • Collect Twitter handles. Before the presentation, ask panelists for a Twitter handle. If they have one, you can reference the scholar, which allows them to track the conversation and even contribute. Contributed by @HistoryGrad and @Teffinina.
  • Listen carefully. If you are going to live-tweet a scholar’s presentation, it is only fair to quote his or her words correctly. Of course, the difficulty is that people talk quickly, especially if they are nervous, but if you are making the decision to put their work on an international platform like Twitter, it is only fair that you make an effort to methodically take notes and get their words right.
  • Use #hashtags. If you plan to live-tweet, create and promote an accompanying hashtag. This way your tweets will carry the same tag and users can follow the hashtag as its own distinct conversation, uninterrupted by other unrelated tweets.
  • Try Storify. Along the same lines of the hashtag, be sure to Storify any conversation related to the hashtag. Storify allows users to create a timeline of social media interactions (in this case a Twitter conversation). This platform is particularly helpful for adding context to tweets, and organizing them into a single, common thread for users to read. For an example, we Storified the conversation surrounding this topic into a social media story titled “Live-Tweeting Etiquette” that I encourage you to read.
  • Link to the paper/session. If the panelist has made the work they are presenting available online, post a link. Contributed by Michelle Davison on Facebook.

Don’t:

    • Insult a panelist or participant. Twitter is a distinct but important form of academic discussion, and in this vein, live tweeters should follow the same code of conduct that governs professional conduct. Recognizing the unique format of social media, in late 2012 the AHA publications department produced “Policies on Letters to the Editor and Comments on the AHA Website and Social Media” to help guide debate on our social media platforms.

Eschewing personal attacks proved popular among respondents. Elain Treharne, commenting on AHA Today, cautioned Twitterstorians to avoid commenting “on the way the speaker looks or what her personality traits might be according to her hairstyle.”

  • Indulge in snark. Claire Potter offered sage advice on AHA Today: “So ask yourself before Tweeting: is this something I would say in a department meeting? Then take it a step further: is this something I would put on the right-hand page of the New York Times under my own name?” @ProfessMoravec offered similar advice, tweeting, “do tweet constructive criticism do resist the urge to show how clever you are.”
  • Manipulate the record. One of the many invaluable aspects of Twitter is its ability to document and archive discussions. Thus, Twitterstorians must be fair and balanced in how they cover a panel and portray a panelist’s argument, regardless of how they feel about the argument being made.
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