Thursday Grumbles–Errors in Speeches, and Forwarding Private Emails

Maybe I’m just in a cranky mood today, but two issues have been bothering me recently.

1) Every now and then, I hear a speaker make a major factual error. (For some reason, this seems to happen a lot with keyword advertising law talks.) The most recent example: a recent speaker on Internet keyword advertising said (1) Google indexes keyword metatags (WRONG), and (2) no Internet keyword defendant has ever won on the use in commerce issue (WRONG and WRONG!). I probed the speaker offline about the latter mistake and the speaker was working from slides prepared in mid-2006 that apparently had been poorly updated. Note to conference organizers: if you’re going to have someone speak on keyword advertising issues, you might make sure they aren’t using 2 year old material.

Don’t get me wrong; mistakes can happen to anyone, and I’m sure I’ve made a few in my time, but I’m not sure what to do in these circumstances:

* Should I point out the error(s) to the speaker in the Q&A (assuming there is Q&A)? It’s awkward to publicly put a speaker on the spot like that, and when it comes to factual errors, there is always the risk of the Q&A degenerating into a public he-said/she-said irresolute discussion.

* Should I point out the error(s) to the speaker privately after the event? This will at least correct the speaker’s misperception, but the audience walks out of the event with misinformation.

* Should I just ignore it? After all, I’ve got plenty to do, and I can’t fix every problem.

Let me know if you have a preferred solution to this problem.

2) With some frequency, a person forwards my email without my permission to third parties who were not the intended audience. This is especially pervasive at Santa Clara University, where there appear to be absolutely no norms against forwarding private emails to non-recipients because I see it numerous times a week. Of course, this forwarding can be problematic in at least two ways. First, the non-recipient may not like the email’s content, especially if it is about them. Second, I try to be pretty careful with what I say in email, but this norm creates a Panopticon phenomenon of inhibiting my ability to speak the truth. So I’m toying with the following solutions:

* adding a legend to the front of my emails saying “DO NOT FORWARD THIS EMAIL FURTHER”

* stop sending email that discusses third parties at all

If you have any thoughts about this problem, I would welcome them as well. Send them by email… :-)

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