Thursday, 06 May 2021 07:33

Conference talk rejected because marketer criticised Google and Facebook

Rand Fishkin: "I don't believe a sponsorship influenced this decision at all." Rand Fishkin: "I don't believe a sponsorship influenced this decision at all." Courtesy SparkToro

A talk submitted to an unnamed conference by the co-founder and chief executive of Washington-based audience research start-up SparkToro has been rejected because it contained criticism of Google and Facebook.

Rand Fishkin claimed that this was the second time that he had had a confirmed talk cancelled.

He posted the slides which the conference organisers had objected to on Twitter, including other slides in his presentation in order to provide context.

Fishkin told iTWire that he would not name the organiser of the conference. "I think they're well within their rights to choose to curate their conference however they'd like, and while it's not ideal given that the event was supposed to be so near in the future, I'm honestly more worried about them finding a replacement than me having a free morning," he said.

"With regards to the 'incident', you can see the email exchange in the thread. The odd bit is that I'd sent over my slides a couple months prior, but I think they hadn't reviewed them until Monday [3 May], which then triggered the emails.

"The conference itself wasn't specifically in the tech field, and to my knowledge, there's no involvement (direct or indirect) with Facebook or Google.

"I don't believe a sponsorship influenced this decision at all. Beyond that, it's hard to know as they didn't provide any context beyond what you can see."

In an email about the slides which were considered offensive, the organisers wrote to Fishkin: "We love the presentation, but we are uncomfortable with slides 12-16 (Algorithms.. through.. Are these the partners we want?)

"These would be inappropriate for our audience. It would be very important that they are removed and subject matter not be part of the presentation. Are you ok with this? Could you please confirm that you could remove this part?"

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Slide number 12 in Fishkin's proposed talk, the first one that the conference organisers objected to. The other four, 13 to 16, are below, in order. All slides courtesy SparkToro.

Fishkin wrote back, refusing to meet these demands. "That's concerning," he wrote. "I'm happy to discuss more tomorrow, but as a rule I don't change of remove 'uncomfortable' or 'political' content.

"Part of my goal in doing these types of talks is to transparently educate folks on these topics and the realities of what Google, Facebook, et al enable."

Replying to Fishkin's tweet thread, a number of people offered to accommodate him and host the same talk on various channels.

He refused to consider what had happened as censorship. "It's not really censorship. They're not restricting the content from being released or seen. They're just choosing to curate their event with their perspectives, which is fine. I, likewise, get to curate my Twitter feed." he responded to one poster who claimed that he had been asked to self-censor.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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