So How Does the Twitter Backchannel Work When The Chatham House Rule Is in Place?

As I type, there is a spinoff meeting (that I’m not at) from the #RSWebSci event operating from a location near Milton Keynes (@martinjemoore: “At tremendous Kavli Centre, Royal Society’s base in Buckinghamshire, for satellite meeting about future of the web & web science #rswebsci”) and being held under the Chatham House rule:

“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”.

In the RSWebSci event, from the backchannel we can identify the participants and their affiliations from any tweets they make from the event:

Chatham House Tweet

So for example, when @timdavies mentions: “Nigel Shadbolt asking “What are Chatham house rules for Twitter” at #rswebsci… Opps, er, I mean Someone asking.” we know that both Tim Davies (“Consultant and action researcher focussing on civic engagement and social technology. Specific focus on youth engagement & open data”) and Nigel Shadbolt are at the event. And from tweets like “#RSwebsci hilarious moment when one unattributable person forgets other unattributable person’s name”, we can assume that the originator of that tweet is also at the event (and maybe that they are not either of the unattributable persons mentioned?)

If we know an event is happening, and we know the sorts of people it is likely to attract (e.g. by looking at the Twitterers from the last couple of days of the #rswebsci event), if a Twitter blackout is in operation we can look to Twitter histories to see who was not tweeting during the event who might normally be expected to be tweeting over that period, and tentatively locate them at the event. We can also rule out people who have declared they aren’t there (@cameronneylon: “I decided not to go to #RSWebsci and satellite meeting because I had too much “proper” work to do. Think I probably picked wrong…”), unless they’re bluffing…?!;-)

From tweets so far, we know via @lescarr that there are several sessions taking place (“”Breakthroughs in Web Science”, “Dark Web”, “Networks in web science”, “Govt open data” and “Collaborative Science” sessions at #RSwebsci”). From clustering the folk who we know to be at, and suspect to be at the event, we might tentatively allocate them to different sessions, with a particular probability. If different hashtags are used for each session, the sort of thing @briankelly (who I don’t think is at the event) often lobbies for, it makes conversation analysis maybe a little easier?

On the topic of conversation analysis, or at least time series analysis (using a tool such as TimeFLow, for example?), we might be able to use some form of it to identify who said what from inspecting the timeline. For example, if @ianmulvany is a truth teller, and says at 9.47 “#RSWebsci time to pitch my idea”, we can monitor tweets over the next few minutes to see if any ideas that are reported are the sort of thing he might have come up with, given we can find out easily enough that he works for Mendeley. So maybe @timdavies’ mention at 9.53 that “#rswebsci @? “Crowdsourcing & crowdcurating more an art than a science right now” <– Shd it develop as science? Or best in domain of art…", that crowdsourcing thing is something that I could imagine Ian saying (P=0.7?) The idea as to whether it's science or art is presumably Tim Davies'?

Just by the by, TIm's use of @? comes from a suggestion I made about a possible "chatham bot" that would accept DMs, anonymise the sender and replace any @name attributions with @?. Thinking about it a little more, it would be easy enough for folk to see who was friended by the chatham bot, and narrow down at least the sender of the tweet to someone on that list. [If by implication we assume @? is a twitterer, rather than a participant not on twitter, we might further narrow down who said what in this case to someone on Twitter whose Twitter username the person who ‘mentioned’ them knows.] Chris Gutteridge, who is also not at the event ("@lescarr eh? I didn't know there was a Wednesday bit! #rswebsci any of it streamed?"), suggested "…creat[ing] a rswebscichatham twitter account and tell all people in the room the username/password. #rswebsci" which gets round this problem of preserving anonymity of the sender, which the creation of a Birdherd account (via @jamestoon) might also do?

Okay, enough of that… except to wonder: what other sorts of traffic analysis might we apply to a hashtag twitter stream and a “likely candidates” twitter use analysis over the duration of the event. Would it be easier to preserve the sense of the Chatham House rule if a hashtag was not used?

PS doh! I forgot to raise the point that first came to mind: how would it be possible to remotely attend a Chatham House event via a public backchannel? (Which is where the chathambot anonymiser came in…)

PPS just to note, as the clock ticks on, and the day warms up, other folk who were at #rswebsci on Monday and Tuesday, but who are not at today;s event, are now tweeting again using the hashtag, which means that the channel now has added noise on top of the discussions from today’s satellite event… The easiest way I can think of following today’s events is to create a list of folk known or suspected to be there, and follow that list through an additional #rswebsci filter?

PPPS [via @timdavies] Chatham House rule FAQ covers Twitter as follows:

Can I ‘tweet’ whilst at an event under the Chatham House Rule?
A. The Rule can be used effectively on social media sites such as Twitter as as long as the person tweeting or messaging reports only what was said at an event and does not identify – directly or indirectly – the speaker or another participant. This consideration should always guide the way in which event information is disseminated – online as well as offline.

It also says:

Q. Can a list of attendees at the meeting be published?
A. No – the list of attendees should not be circulated beyond those participating in the meeting.

which can in part be inferred from various uses of Twitter, and maybe also any public geolocation services used by participants. Which is to say, if you know where an event is, you can maybe look for people near there..?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

8 thoughts on “So How Does the Twitter Backchannel Work When The Chatham House Rule Is in Place?”

  1. Chatham House rules do not preclude advertising who is at the meeting (especially self-disclosure).

    1. Agreed, though attendance lists are not public?

      Just seemed like a good opportunity (for me at least) to try to think through some of the consequences for the backchannel of the Chatham House rule, and the ways in which it could be used either within, or without, the spirit of the rule.

      I was deliberately trying to be provocative/maybe act outside the spirit of the rule (or rather, abuse the spirit of the rule,given I’m not there…) to explore what sorts of tension might be exerted on the backchannel for a live tweeted backchannel event.

      PS it’s not something I intended to spend an hour and a half mulling over today, either…;-)

  2. From Les; Says @Villavelius “Attribution is the lifeblood of science, no?” Says @lescarr “yes, of published outputs” #RSwebsci

    I think that it’s vital to have provenance on where an experimental result comes from. You need to know who did it as a metric of trust to build upon it.

    A theory or idea, on the other hand is (should be!) judged solely by the evidence that supports it. Where the idea comes from should not matter (except to the career of the originator)

  3. If we knew who was (or at least, how many were) at the first two days (non-Chatham House), and could infer the identities of the twits who were there (ie those who only or mostly did original tweets rather than replies or RTs, then we could extract a ratio of twits to non-twits for this audience class. No guarantees that it would be the same, but that might add a modicum of information to your traffic analysis.

    1. “If we knew who was (or at least, how many were) at the first two days (non-Chatham House)”
      Was attendance at the Chatham Hse event dependent on physical attendance at the first two days?

      “and could infer the identities of the twits who were there (ie those who only or mostly did original tweets rather than replies or RTs”
      I made several original tweets, and I wasn’t there…

      “then we could extract a ratio of twits to non-twits for this audience class. No guarantees that it would be the same, but that might add a modicum of information to your traffic analysis.”
      Agreed… I guess if conferences/workshops start opening up their attendance lists, we can start to look at the penetration of social media activity within those contexts. But then, I think some event organisers see attendance lists as commercially valuable (as mailing lists, if nothing else), and have an interest in not disclosing them?

  4. Chatham House Rules (CHR) have their non-sinister uses – such as testing out ideas without setting the tabloids scrabbling for final views! Geolocation and Twitter etc can be good but surely CHR meetings can provide CHR-safe backchannels? It’s not hard to tuck the whole lot up in an ‘online’ meeting with a backchannel and just use the online bit for the (protected) backchannel.

    1. @Gillian CHR also good for things like fail camps (people talk about their (institutional) failures, without the far of wider concerns about bringing the institution in disrepute..

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