Microsoft bans Stilgherrian from TechEd


blog Those of you who know opinionated Australian technology commentator Stilgherrian (just one word, that’s his full name) will know that he can be a little … caustic at times. His Twitter profile openly states that he’s a “geek word-whore” who uses “bad words”, and the title of his blog states: “All publication is a political act. All communication is propaganda. All art is pornography. All business is personal.” Now, this doesn’t mean Stilgherrian’s not a professional — on the contrary, most of his freelance journalism work runs down standard routes and is written much like anyone else’s. However, it does mean that sometimes, especially when he’s off the clock, things get a little closer to the line between art and journalism than with other Australian technology writers.

Knowing all this as basically everyone who works in Australian technology media does, it’s perhaps a little surprising to hear some some of his particularly caustic tweets have gotten Stilgherrian banned from Microsoft’s upcoming TechEd conference. A post on Stilgherrian’s blog explains the issue was with some of his tweets during last year’s TechEd, particularly those aimed at keynote speaker Jason Silva during his presentation:

“The following morning, immediately before a scheduled press briefing, a Microsoft staffer pulled me aside for a little chat. I wish I’d taken notes, or perhaps even recorded the conversation, but I didn’t. My bad. So this is just my memory. Concerns had been raised, he said, about my tweets. I think the word “tone” was used. He didn’t say who had raised these concerns, and I don’t think he ever gave a concrete description of these concerns. I remember being confused.”

Mumbrella has a suitably corporate-sounding, concise statement from Microsoft on the issue:

“We look to invite members of the media who are prepared to engage in a constructive dialogue, whether that is in-person or online. Whether you’re a journalist, a blogger, a delegate or an employee, our hope is to have interactions that are in keeping with the positive environment and networking that takes place on site.”

Personally, I do feel Stilgherrian’s tweets crossed the line in terms of what he wrote. He was attending TechEd last year as a professional freelance journalist on behalf of ZDNet Australia. As some of you would recall, I was for quite a while a few years back the news editor of that site, and I regularly engaged freelancers for these kinds of events. If one of those freelancers (or an in-house journalist) had posted the tweets which Stilgherrian posted at at event like TechEd, knowing that they would be part of the huge TechEd hashtag, then I would have had a quiet word with the freelancer to tone it down a little, as they were, after all, representing the corporate brand.

There’s no need for journalists at TechEd to avoid professionally criticising Microsoft; the company has a thick skin and expects it. However, there’s also no need to be impolite, when you’re a guest in someone else’s house.

However, at the same time I don’t feel Stilgherrian’s tweets warranted him getting banned from TechEd entirely. By doing so, Microsoft has created a little mini-storm in the mediasphere and made itself look draconian for cutting down on free speech. Stilgherrian’s an intelligent chap and quite aware of his professional responsibilities; all it would have taken for Microsoft to calm this situation down would have been a quiet word between one of its senior PRs and the editor of ZDNet, Chris Duckett. No ban necessary, they should have said, but just tone Stilgherrian down a little — no harm done. This kind of thing happens often in journalism — it’s all about give and take.

Ultimately I feel Stilgherrian will probably take this one on the chin and likely even be back for next year’s TechEd. He’s one of my favourite Australian technology writers, after all, and a writer who hasn’t been banned from a couple of events is probably not pushing the line often enough where journalism becomes art. And if I know Stilgherrian as well as I think I do, I know that he is a master of pushing that line, when it needs to be pushed :) Occasionally that will mean you get burnt; but that, as Omar tells us, is all in the game :)

Image credit: Stilgherrian


  1. I’ll be honest

    “woopty doo”

    Other companies have similar policy to Microsoft where a PR person will vet your twitter feed for anything pornographic or not G rated. This happened to Nate Blunt (Blunty on youtube) where he regularly attended vodafone launch events then suddernly the invites stopped coming and turned out the PR company had blacklisted him because of his blog/tweet content

  2. Image management is very important in this day and age, in fact it’s a sign of the times.

  3. Interesting to see how the twitter feed is now “part of the show”. If he shouted out the things he tweets in the middle of the keynote the reaction would be the same…

  4. “All publication is a political act. […] All business is personal.”

    Interesting choice of words for a manifesto, especially when you compare them with Stilgherrian’s dismissal of his “hyperbolic violence” as just a wacky comedy device – a la the Doug Anthony Allstars or the Looney Tunes cartoons – solely confined to his personal Twitter feed.

    If you declare that all business and publication are personal and political, you leave yourself open to anyone who cares to conflate your supposed personal and business identities – such as a large technology company whose event planners/PR flacks you have previously annoyed by mocking their previous choice of keynote speaker, and who control the scarcity of press passes for this year’s event.

    I do think that Stilgherrian had a point about Jason Silva, who seems to skirt the border between epiphany and apophenia, and of course it is important for the press to be skeptical about the substance behind grand claims and sweeping visions. But the violent Twitter imagery gives the MS folks an easy way to remove an irritant: Ad hominem attacks are bad, therefore you can’t have one of these scarce press passes this year; just like we wouldn’t give one to the Doug Anthony Allstars either, even though they’re funnier than you.

    It’s just business. Nothing personal.

  5. I haven’t talked to Stil for a couple of decades now but am not surprised that his personality gets in the way of his work occasionally if he does not compartmentalise the two so that he can get on with normal work without putting too much of his personality into his work.

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