“Conferences have shifted focus to having to police people’s beliefs, politics and feelings.”
A popular US cybersecurity conference that last year sold 2,400 tickets online in 13 seconds says it is shutting down – citing the increasing difficulty of managing attendee behaviour.
Kentucky-based DerbyCon was founded in 2011 and has been described as a “baby DEFCON” (one of the world’s largest hacker conferences, held annually in Las Vegas). It has grown rapidly.
DerbyCon Shut Down
Yet in a blog post late Monday, DerbyCon co-founder David Kennedy said 2019’s “DerbyCon 9.0” would be the organisers’ last, blaming the increased difficulty of attendee behaviour.
“We had to handle issues that honestly, as an adult, we would never expect to have to handle from other adults,” he wrote.
DerbyCon Founder: More Difficult to Police Each Year
He said: “We’ve spoken with a number of conference organizers, and each year it becomes substantially more difficult to host a conference where people can come together in large group settings… Conferences in general have shifted focus to not upsetting individuals and having to police people’s beliefs, politics, and feelings.”
“There is a small, yet vocal group of people creating negativity, polarization, and disruption, with the primary intent of self-promotion to advance a career, for personal gain, or for more social media followers. Individuals that would have us be judge, jury, and executioner for people they have had issues with outside of the conference that has nothing to do with the conference itself.”
Among the issues that came up at 2018’s DerbyCon: a row over a poster board at the conference where people could answer “what helps you relax”.
One attendee wrote “boobies” while another added #metoo.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this hardly went down well with female attendees, with one Tweeting: “You know what doesn’t help me with stress? Men joking about sexual assault”. The row escalated badly.
While the organisers do not name a specific event, they highlighted an unnamed “individual that was verbally and mentally abusive to a number of our volunteer staff and security to the point where they were in tears.”
Growing Malaise Around Conference Circuit
The announcement added to a growing sense of malaise around the conference circuit.
Last year’s Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference descended into a large public and social media spat after a white nationalist wearing a MAGA hat disrupted the event, then had his hat snatched, leading to police intervention. Other alt-right activists blocked the aisles and then said anyone who complained was “fat shaming” them.
The Chaos Communication Congress has been blamed for mismanagement of sexual assault allegations, while security at last year’s DEFCON caused outrage for their heavy-handed approach to random room searches in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, including entering women’s rooms without knocking.
Other conferences have shut down for more prosaic economic reasons: CA World was closed down after Broadcom’s CA Technologies takeover, while Europe’s CeBIT shut up shop in 2018 citing falling numbers and high competition.