Code of Conduct #commbuild Talk Write-up
by Melissa Chavez @capnleela
I've worked on a lot of events over the last 5+ years. From tech conferences to literary festivals, meetups and workshops, to an Iron Chef competition, and more. I have gotten to see how other organizers at these public and private events deal with situations, and what steps they take in advance to communicate that certain behaviors are not acceptable.
From this experience, I view a Code of Conduct as a guide pointing out behaviors that are not going to be tolerated in a given space or related to a given event or organization. It's very much like Community Guidelines for groups or organizations, but goes beyond describing acceptable behavior/actions, to include mention of consequences that will be taken if someone violates the guide or code (even if specific actions in response to violations might not be listed). The goal is to show people that organizers have thought about this, have behaviors in mind that will not be tolerated, and will take action if anyone crosses the line. It is a warning that must be backed up with a viable action plan of response.
The last few years have brought awareness to some bad behavior at conferences, meetups, festivals, and conventions. Events of all sizes are now including a Code of Conduct to their planning, and sharing it with anyone even thinking about attending, as both an announcement of "we take this seriously, so be on your best behavior" and "there will be consequences if you don't follow these guidelines."
For 99.99% of all attendees, a Code of Conduct won't really affect them. They are already respectful and maintain a professional manner toward everyone. It's unfortunately the rare occasions that warrant the writing and enforcing of a CoC. If someone displays inappropriate behaviors or makes other people uncomfortable, or any other NOPE NOPE NOPE or No NO NO behaviors, they have become an issue that needs to be dealt with. Like I said during the #commbuild chat, we have Codes of Conduct in place NOT to police everyone's actions or go searching for violations. We have them so that minority and marginalized people will feel safe. So that they know we are thinking of them and will do our best to protect them from harm. This is inclusionary thinking, not exclusionary.
Advice for taking action against a violation:
1. Contact the violator as soon as the behavior is noticed or reported. If in person, announce over PA for the person to report to the registration table, or have the reporter of violation describe the violator so organizers can find them (and pull out of a session, if necessary). If violator is attending in person and is also on Twitter, send a similar message (to report to the registration table) via @ or DM, especially if violation occurred on that platform.
2. Hear from the different sides. Do this quickly, separately, and privately, if possible. Find out from the person who reported the violation what their best-case outcome of the situation is.
3. Discuss among the organizing team to be sure there is a united front on the decision on what action to take in response, and try to have one person be the spokesperson when telling the violator.
4. Tell the person who reported the violation the outcome. If the decision impacts more than just the violator, you can share the decision with a broader audience. (XOXO did this recently, by announcing to the attendees that someone had been removed for bad behavior.)
Each report and response takes time and thought and will take organizers away from their other duties, but this is extremely important to do. You are stopping a bully. A troll. And educating them that they have to treat others better, by telling them their actions have consequences and now is when those consequences will catch up to them.
I recently was contacted by an organizer of an international conference for advice, because I said (on Twitter) that I knew of an example of a CoC violation that occurred via Twitter. This was part of my response:
There isn't a specific social media component to Bridge's CoC policy. We do keep track of all communications related to the conference throughout the year, though. (Just checked, and the official IRC has 5 core organizers in the channel right now, with a total of about 20 people in it, 4 months after the conference.) And a few of us get email alerts from Twitter whenever the conference handle gets mentions. Hootsuite and RebelMouse are platforms I've used to monitor social media for the event itself.
For your policy, I'd include a line or two that says something like "We will be monitoring all correspondence related to the conference throughout the year and our Code of Conduct will be enforced year-round. We expect attendees and speakers past and present to be respectful to each other, and we will deal with any incidents that arise, including on social media." You can keep it vague, or go into specifics, or even extremes, if necessary, such as "including a ban from future events."
For enforcement: During our conference, we have specific social media monitors watching mentions, hashtags, and the IRC channel every day of the conference, taking shifts. The people are volunteers (we're all volunteers for Bridge) we trust, and they come to the co-chairs or the communications lead (me) if there's an incident. We try to train everyone in advance, too, about de-escalation and straw man-type fallacies, as a preventative measure.
We're very proactive about this. For all aspects of the conference.
If you want to talk more about your specific event or have questions about enforcement or anything else, please let me know! Find me on Twitter at @capnleela, or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.