On several occasions in this blog, I’ve expressed concern about speech restrictions in SF cons’ codes of conduct. An event at MidAmericon 2 (this year’s Worldcon) provides evidence that the threat is real, and that some people on con committees don’t care to allow views they dislike. A Hugo-nominated author named Dave Truesdale was expelled from the convention after making a long, off-topic speech at a panel which he was on.
I wasn’t there, and I’m piecing the information together from various reports, but so far the concom’s actions look hostile to the liberal ideal of open discussion and debate.
This statement appeared in the convention newsletter:
At the beginning of a panel on The State of Short Fiction on Friday, Dave Truesdale read a prepared statement that contained inflammatory comments that were considered inciteful by a number of people at the panel. After consulting with the Incident Report Team, the Division Heads revoked Dave’s membership. They issued the following statement: “Dave Truesdale’s membership was revoked because he violated MidAmeriCon II’s Code of Conduct. Specifically, he caused ‘significant interference with event operations and caused excessive discomfort to others.'”
Other reports confirm that Truesdale made a prolonged, off-topic speech which greatly annoyed the people attending the panel. He recorded the panel and made or was going to make a recording public (though I haven’t found it yet), in violation of convention rules. A few people I’ve discussed this with thought releasing the recording was the basis for his expulsion, but the concom’s statement didn’t mention that as an issue.
If his statements were “inciteful,” what exactly was he inciting? (The concom doesn’t actually claim he did incite anything, only that people claimed he did.) If he urged people to violence, that would be legitimate grounds for expulsion, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he did. He could also have been “inciting” people to speak out or to support some authors instead of others. The term is broad.
He caused “excessive discomfort.” What does this mean? That people were uncomfortable about what he said? If not that, then what?
I’m still looking for information. Jim Hines has posted two pieces on the matter. In his first article, he asks: “I think we’ve all seen people derail panels for their own personal agendas. Truesdale’s moderation might have been an epic shitshow, but is it grounds for expulsion?” In the second article, he concludes that “it’s obvious from what’s been shared publicly that Dave Truesdale violated multiple items of Worldcon’s posted code of conduct, and that this was something done with a great deal of planning and forethought.”
Unfortunately, he doesn’t go into specifics. He mentions the matter of recording and says that Truesdale engaged in “planned and deliberate disruption of the convention.” What did this consist of? Were there other incidents besides his delivering a prolonged off-topic rant at a panel?
From what I know of Truesdale’s actions so far, I think they’d have justified removing him from all program items for the rest of the con and not inviting him back. Expulsion from a Worldcon, though, is a serious matter. Attending costs hundreds of dollars.
I’ve chaired several small conventions, and they’ve never had to expel anyone. If someone was a persistent problem, I’d work hard on preventing the problem from recurring before resorting to expulsion. Putting restrictions on people’s actions, with the threat of expulsion if they don’t accept them, can work. Expulsion should be just for people who are persistently causing serious problems such as invasion of privacy, violence, or harassment.
Cons typically retain the right to expel people for any reason, but if they do it for anything less than urgent reasons, people won’t trust them after that. When a concom sites “excessive discomfort” and unspecified incitement as the reasons for expulsion, it isn’t working hard enough to regain people’s trust. With so many codes of conduct putting restrictions on speech, it’s important to reaffirm the principle of open discussion and avoid even the appearance of silencing dissent.