Online events are more accessible to more people than ever before. We've previously talked about virtual event etiquette, potential blunders, and the importance of accessibility. One area we haven't touched on: civility. I'm sure we've all come across keyboard cowboys who pollute online interaction, discussions, and comment sections, but what happens when they show up to your virtual event? Do you have published rules/guidelines for expected behavior from your attendees? What should a virtual events code of conduct include?
There are any number of people interacting online at any given moment who have completely forgotten their manners . We've all seen them or experienced them, and a scroll through a social media comment thread will remind us of that fact. So, it's never a bad idea to expressly state what you expect from your presenters, moderators, and attendees, and what the consequences are for violating your code of conduct.
Yes, You Can Kick Out an Attendee
A 2022 article by The Brookings Institute states, "As the law stands, platforms are private entities with their own speech rights; hosting content is not a traditional government role that makes a private actor subject to First Amendment constraints." In other words, you set the rules because you are the owner and your attendees are visitors on your virtual "property." Content moderation is not a violation of the First Amendment, even if the Cancel Culture Police try to convince you otherwise.
The Opening Statement
Communicate your company values and commitment to equity, as well as your expectations. This is very much a part of your diversity, accessibility, and inclusion initiatives. For example: "Acme Co. is dedicated to providing an inclusive, safe, and harassment-free environment for all participants, regardless of disability, race, ethnicity, age, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, physical appearance/body size, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment in any form."
If you want to get more specific with your expectations, bullet points visually break up the text and help convey clarity. Some examples of areas to cover:
Make Agreement Part of the Registration Process
- What Constitutes Harassment — Clearly state what you mean by harassment, and include both written and verbal communication in your definition.
- Privacy and Intellectual Property — Prohibit taking screenshots and sharing chats, fellow attendee info, Q&A, or presentation materials.
- Interruption and Arguing — Talking over people and disrupting them is, 1) annoying and, 2) makes it hard for people who need closed captioning to access the discussion.
- Suggestive/Lewd/Derogatory — While this should be obvious, make it crystal clear.
- Reporting — Provide instructions for attendees who experience or witness bad behavior on how to report it to an event manager/moderator.
- Non-compliance — What happens when someone is breaking the rules? Decide on "warning" versus "buh-bye."
- Reserve Your Rights — Don't be afraid to reserve the right to delete, mute, or boot.
Give your code of conduct some teeth by adding a required opt-in question on your registration page. (E.g., "I have read and agree to the Code of Conduct...") At the opening of your live event, post a reminder of the Code in the chat, and verbally remind attendees to review.
Civility Is Never out of Style
Whenever a cross-section of people from various walks of life gather, both in person and virtually, a disagreement or conflict could potentially arise. Setting appropriate expectations in advance, adhering to your own guidelines, and gracefully navigating through any storm helps your events stay positive, on track, and safe for everyone.
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