Speech control at Worldcon?

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 They issued the following statement: “Dave Truesdale’s membership was revoked because he violated MidAmeriCon II’s Code of Conduct.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.

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6 Responses to “Speech control at Worldcon?”

  1. John Van Stry Says:

    Go listen to the tape of the panel, it’s posted now at: http://www.tangentonline.com/articles-columnsmenu-284/3227-2016-worldcon-panel-on-the-qstate-of-short-science-fictionq

    I listened to it, and I can not understand why he was kicked out. I can also see now that many of the people who commented about his introductory comments were lying. He did nothing at all to deserve what happened.

  2. Cat Says:

    Okay I’m listening to it…

    What the hell? The panel was on Golden Age Short Science Fiction, wasn’t it? We can argue about exactly when that was but that’s not what he is doing.

    Someone asked him to please get to the point, and everyone in the audience starts applauding. That’s an indication that he is taking too much time and not offering what the panel was supposed to be about. Wasn’t he supposed to be the moderator? So it was his job to come prepared with questions to draw the other panelists out and keep the panel on the subject rather than taking a lot of it for a basically Puppy political ad.

    He’s rehashing tired Puppy talking points. Puppy talking points taking up the audience’s and panelists’ time when they were promised a panel about Golden Age short science fiction (or perhaps the state of short science fiction today) is inappropriate. He derailed the panel basically completely for a while at the start there.

    He’s calling people “special snowflakes” and “pearl clutchers” and “bullies” which is a pretty strange way to start a conversation about tolerance, as one audience member notes. *His* tolerance of people who differ with him is, shall we say, not on full display.

    He keeps saying it will be short and he’ll move on and then he goes back to it, and it’s not short and he doesn’t move on.

    The non-Dave panelist who actually *got* “bullied” (Dave’s term) for not having enough women is contradicting Dave, saying that he learned from the experience and his next anthology not only had more women in it but was a collection he liked *better* because he found the stories richer and more varied. So Dave was complaining “for” someone who was actually in the room and could speak for himself–and was obviously not shy about doing so.

    Well, okay, after about fifteen or twenty minutes he at least takes a more productive turn with his questions. And hey, once he has been led by the panelists (doing his moderator job for him) into a more productive direction he manages to find something positive and germane to say about current short SF, so good.

    Now that said, the way it was dealt with afterwards probably had a lot to do with how Dave responded to being taken to task. He could hardly say “I got carried away” when he plainly came planning to do this, armed with props and a recording device. But if he had said “I’m sorry–it won’t happen again” like Mary Robinette Kowal did about serving scotch at her panel he’d probably have got off like Mary Robinette Kowal–suspended for the rest of the day, which he could spend hanging out in the bar or seeing the sights of Kansas City (which struck me as fairly cool.). If he yelled or tried to talk over the people trying to talk to him (as he does at some points in the recording) or refused to accept their right to enforce the code of conduct where necessary, then he probably got the maximum sanction. Humans are like that.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      An interesting hypothesis, and plausible. What he got might have had more to do with his interaction with the concom than with what he originally did.

    • Eyal Mozes Says:

      Now that said, the way it was dealt with afterwards probably had a lot to do with how Dave responded to being taken to task.

      My question to that would be: if that is what happened, wouldn’t the concom have said so in their public statement? Wouldn’t they have said something about having tried to discuss the matter with Truesdale, and then been forced to expel him because of his continuing rude and uncooperative attitude?

      I think the crucial point is the one Gary made in the post, which I very strongly agree with: it is very important to reaffirm the principle of open discussion and avoid the appearance of silencing dissent; the prevalence of draconian-sounding codes of conduct at conventions makes that even more important. Whatever the full story is behind Truesdale’s expulsion, the public statement the concom made about it was very much a dereliction of that responsibility.

      • Gary McGath Says:

        I finally got around to listening to the recording, up to the 10-minute mark.
        Truesdale made a speech of about five minutes which made reasonable points. The next five minutes were a discussion, without raised voices, between Truesdale and another person. I didn’t hear anything that warranted the slightest disciplinary action.

        The only thing Truesdale incited people to was clutching pearls. That may be a bit rude, but It’s far removed from what anyone would imagine from the claim that his statement was “inciteful.” The concom definitely doesn’t look good by letting that assertion stand.

        Con committees are generally inclined not to air dirty laundry. In ordinary situations, such as someone being persistently disruptive, that’s generally for the best. A lot of publicity just creates more hostility. It’s possible that Truesdale got into an angry argument with the concom members who presented the charges against him, and they expelled him in the heat of emotion.

        This wasn’t an ordinary disciplinary situation, though. Being vague about the situation just confirms the impression that Truesdale was kicked out for the ideas he expressed. He “caused significant interference with event operations.” If this charge refers to his speech, the charge is totally bogus and puts the concom clearly in the wrong. If it refers to something else, the concom needs to say what in order to avoid the impression it gave. If he caused “excessive discomfort” with his speech, that proves the very point he made in his speech: that there’s a group of people in SF who can’t stand hearing anything that doesn’t fit their worldview. If he did something else, we have no idea what. The concom can’t afford to be silent if there’s more to the issue than meets the eye.

    • John Van Stry Says:

      He got banned for having an unpopular opinion, plain and simple. There was absolutely nothing that he did that was all that bad or even wrong. I’ve moderated panels at larger cons, I’ve even run the writing track at larger cons. This was simply the very thing he was saying he was concerned about, people over reacting because they were exposed to a viewpoint that didn’t agree with theirs, and then going insane because of it.


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