Conference recordings and harassment

The problem

At technical and other geek conferences and events it’s becoming increasingly common to either video talks by default, or in some cases to refuse to allow any speaker to opt out of being recorded while still being allowed to give their talk. I have been told a couple of stories of harassment related to conference videos, as follows (all individuals are women, some have been anonymised, none are me):

S gave a talk at a professional conference and related the following experience in chat:

S: linkedin pm I just got: “wow- you’re alot more younger and attractive than I imagined!.Thanks for showing your picture!”
S: I don’t like photographs and don’t let my likeness out much online. But a professional talk I gave a couple weeks ago was videoed (with my knowledge and consent). This was the result.

C gave a talk at a technical conference and a recorded version was also published with her consent. She subsequently received an anonymous email with a list of time offsets for the video and sexual commentary on her appearance at those time offsets.

Geekfeminism contributors also shared stories:

  • Leigh, in reply to S’s story:

    I got one of those on Facebook a few weeks back, from someone I know in the local Linux community, saying I was “so hot” and asking if I was giving any more talks this summer. This is someone I know only professionally, and not even well at that.

    I replied with a link to Juliet’s ‘and she’s cute too!’ blog post…

  • Skud has received several messages with offensive commentary on her appearance based on videos and photographs of her talks. A couple of events have recorded her without first obtaining her consent; in one case, she spoke to the photographer afterwards and asked for the video not to be published.

See also the Wiscon troll incident.

What to do about it

Based on these stories, there are several concerns about recording conference talks that conference organisers should be thinking about when planning to record talks:

  1. Consent to recordings must be obtained from all speakers, in advance.
  2. Have an optional, opt-in, recording scheme for talks. As these stories demonstrate, people have had harassment experiences, some very creepy and cruel, related to being recorded, or have reason to fear them. People may well decide that they’d prefer not to be recorded for this, or other, reasons. If your conference has a “if you don’t want to be recorded, withdraw your talk” policy, you will exclude those people from speaking.
  3. It’s not feasible to get attendee consent, but in your conference handouts, warn attendees that their questions and possibly other conversation may be recorded during talks.

Possible alternatives to making recordings of speakers include publishing slides only, or making a slidecast of their slides and the audio of the talk. (Note that the latter can also be considerably more useful than visuals of the speaker.)

Separately, some women (in particular) intensely dislike the paparazzi atmosphere that some geek events have, in which everyone can be photographed at any time. In your event’s code of conduct, consider addressing the question of whether photographers should seek consent from individual subjects to either photography or to publication of photographs.

What’s your experience with event recording, especially video and photography? Can you think of any other ways in which recording is problematic, or other guidelines for event organisers to help with these problems?

Note to commenters: the “you should be flattered” discussion will not take place in this post. Thank you.

17 thoughts on “Conference recordings and harassment

  1. Clinton Roy

    Bloody hell.

    I didn’t notice name’n’shame as an option. I suppose it would only make things worse.

    1. Mary Post author

      Name and shame isn’t always possible (C’s harasser, for example, was anonymous). I think it would be less effective than criticising conference speakers in public is: a harasser of this sort is just as likely or more to be a peripheral community member or just an Internet user, and thus less likely to care about community disapproval, as they are to be someone who has to move in the community continually.

      In any event, the suggested approaches in this entry are for conference organisers. It doesn’t seem that they’d be especially well placed to name and shame. This harassment seems to be taking place after the conclusion of conferences, in direct contact between the harasser and the speaker, bypassing the conference infrastructure. Conference organisers should of course be responding to within-conference harassment and be treating their speakers well at the time of the conference and taking their concerns about this seriously, but when it actually happens to someone, the conference organisers aren’t in a position to act any more.

  2. Rafael Carreras

    I can understand someones concern about photographs and definitively agree with standard video recording permissions, but public taken photos of the speakers is only natural. I suspect that are more photos taken from female speakers (at least in your zone, I didn’t realise that on mine, but I’m not female), but I think it is due to less females doing speeches. I’d say it’s a good thing people see more photos of women doing speeches on the internet in order to spread geek feminism.

    1. Mary Post author

      Actually, from my fund of anecdotal data, women attendees express more discomfort with photographs than speakers. I can see why: it’s weirder to be on show for strangers when lining up for coffee or eating at the conference dinner than it is when one is giving a speech. I was intended to address attendee as much as or more than speaker discomfort with my comments on still photography.

      With regard to spreading geek feminism, it is definitely good to have role models. But coercing individual women into being those role models is extremely problematic. The need for women role models should not override a woman’s decisions about her boundaries.

    2. Jonquil

      Many behaviors that are “only natural” turn out to have unexpected consequences. Taking pictures of people in public is a reasonable and natural thing to do… posting those pictures on the Web (or publishing them in any way) requires a photographer’s release. (Not everybody remembers this.)

      You may think it’s a good thing to publish women’s photographs, but if the women themselves say, as they have said, that they get harassed because of those photographs, then the overall result is to discourage those women from making presentations, not to encourage women’s presence.

      Note: this does not, of course, apply to all presenters. Some women are willing to take the risk of harassment, but accepting the risk of harassment should not be a mandatory part of giving presentations.

      1. Mary Post author

        posting those pictures on the Web (or publishing them in any way) requires a photographer’s release. (Not everybody remembers this.)

        This is highly jurisdiction dependent. In NSW (Australia) the photographer’s rights summaries imply that you do not in fact need a release for publication unless you are using the photograph to endorse a product (ie, you do need a release to use the photograph in an advertisement, not otherwise).

        Courtesy and ethics are of course a different thing.

        1. Pierce

          Jonquil: got a cite for that? All the photographer’s and model’s rights stuff I can find with a quick search indicates that US law is similar to Australian law in this regard. A photo taken from anywhere the photographer had a legal right to be and in an otherwise legal manner (such as not violating the local wiretapping statutes) can be published without a model release unless the photo is used in such a way as to imply that the subject of the photo agrees with, advocates, or endorses some position.

        2. Jonquil

          Pierce, there are two forks here.

          1: I was speaking from hearsay and ignorance without having done my research. I apologize.
          2. My quick Google says that the law is unclear enough that a prudent professional photographer always gets a release. This is in no way the same as its being legally required.

          So, the situation wasn’t as I remembered it; the analogy is bad; it is still wise to get model’s releases if you’re planning on circulating the photograph.

  3. Audrey Eschright

    The other side of this is wanting women to be visible not as targets, but so that female participation in events (as speakers or just attendees) is represented as normal. That’s harder to accomplish if the women who are there are opting out of photographs, video, etc. I’ve experienced enough gawking to understand the personal tradeoff, but I guess my question (as an event organizer) is “how do we help other women feel supported in being more visible?”

    1. Carla Schroder

      I’m with Audrey. If we hide and let ourselves be chased underground we’re letting the twits win. One of Linuxchix’s successes over the years has been a steady stream of “Seeing you out there gave me the courage to go out there too” stories.

      We can support each other; when we feel isolated it’s many times worse. Perhaps conference organizers could arrange to introduce women speakers to each other beforehand via email, IRC, or some such, so at least they can put some names to faces and know they’re not alone. Visibility is everything in encouraging more women to participate.

      Building a network of friends and allies is another crucial step, both men and women. Then when we go to an event there are friends to meet, instead of standing around all awkward. Maybe conference organizers could round up some volunteers to hang out with the speakers and help them with questions, logistics, and meeting people. I imagine some men speakers would appreciate a service like that too. Maybe that would help attract a wider variety of speakers, which should appeal to conference-goers who are bored with Linus’ tired old schtick, or Mark S., or any of the other ubiquitous faces. Let’s see some new faces.

      I don’t go to conferences for various reasons, though I would like to. I would try harder if they had more women presenters and some different speakers.

      1. Mary Post author

        I don’t disagree with you or Audrey I think, it’s possibly a difference in emphasis or even expression. There are two principles I’m working from:
        1. women deserve to have their boundaries respected and honoured
        2. there is an unhelpful pattern in response to harassment and abuse, which is an immediate pile-on of “you should have reported it”, “you should have told him where to go”, “you should have shrugged it off” (Karen Healey puts this well at )

        I really don’t want to play into #2 in particular in talking about this.

        Having said that, it’s clear that attending and speaking at geek conferences is fun and professionally advantageous and feminists can support women better in doing it. (I am not so sure actually that being recorded is all that important for non-keynote talks, and appearing on someone’s Flickr stream as “LOL this girl was at a Linux conference!! she’s kinda cute but I was too shy to hit on her” is probably without upsides at all.)

        That conversation we should keep having, but it wasn’t emphasised in this post. I was largely taking it for granted: I’ve been part of a few conversations over the past year that were along the lines of “speakers who refuse to allow their talks to be recorded are selfish uptight corporate jerks, there’s no good reason for it.” As usual, if you ask some women about what happens when they appear in public, it turns out there’s a different story. A lot of conference organisers didn’t know that women were being harassed based on video footage. Now they do (well, when someone sends them the link they do).

        1. Carla Schroder

          Mary, regarding #1 you’re absolutely right.

          #2 …well… Nothing is going to change if we avoid things. We have to be brave and take stands. When, where, and how to do that are individual decisions. Is it worth not having a talk filmed and shared on the Internet, where it can potentially benefit great numbers of viewers as well as the speaker, for fear of attracting some unwanted attention? I can’t answer that for someone else– for me the answer is “No.” I want to be visible to encourage other women. In fact I am several demographics in one– female, mid-life career changer, self-taught, gay, and old. (52) So dammit, if I’m going to stick my neck out I better have some company :)

          Keeping bad things hidden works against us– fear and secrets have been used against women from the beginning of time. I would never try to make anyone do something she doesn’t want to do. But I think we need more voices encouraging bravery and visibility, and more cahootsing to figure out how to deal with the cruddy stuff.

        2. Mary Post author

          Carla, my feeling about where I would go with #2 is that I’m more than happy to say “I chose to be visible because of X, I chose to speak out because of Y” and also to offer to help others who are making or who have made a similar choice. The place I’m not willing to go is to turn it into a “you should” kind of position. I don’t know what kind of shit other people are dealing with and if they decide they need to defend themselves at the expense of visibility at any moment, I don’t want to cross that.

          But as I said, I don’t think we’re necessarily in an awfully different place on this, just that I’m quite focused on #2 for various reasons at the moment and the focus is coming out in my writing.

    2. Dorothea Salo

      I think we may have to accept less visibility in some cases. After all, a woman who’s up on that podium doesn’t suddenly become invisible just because a video doesn’t go up! She is still speaking and still making a difference.

      (I have my doubts about how much conference video gets used, anyway. I’m willing to be wrong, so if you’ve got stats, lay ’em on me, but that’s my belief. Slides, yeah, lots, and sometimes well after the event. Video, not so much.)

      We lose if we drive female speakers off the podium because they don’t want their likenesses splashed all over the intarwebs for creeps to comment on.

      1. amk

        PyCon 2009 was held in March, and by May the videos on had been viewed 100,000 times, according to blip’s stats. I think it’s passed 180k by now.

        Some people reported spending more time chatting in the hallway instead of cutting it short to leave for a talk because they knew the material would all be available. This implies that the schedule should say which talks are being recorded and which aren’t; otherwise, attendees might skip a talk intending to catch the video and discover too late that there isn’t any.

      2. Skud

        I think video of keynotes is pretty widely watched (at least based on my experience with OSCON and thinking about my own watching habits), as is video of “rockstars” especially if their talk is entertaining. Ignite talks, too, seem to get quite a lot of watches, probably because they are both short and entertaining.

        I’m more likely to watch conference video if the production standards are high. For instance, I love watching TED videos because they are both interesting and well produced. The videos of talks at Google are also good that way. And yes, two cameras, one of them on the slides, and editing them together, is a big part of that.

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