In my role as a Technical Evangelist, I attend and mentor at a lot of hackathons. I did not attend Hack The North in Waterloo, Ontario earlier this fall, but I heard about an incident and it caught my attention.
On the hackathon Facebook page, one student posted "Anyone building a clock for the haack?" Two students replied - one said he was building a bomb that looked like a clock; the other replied "My clock is the bomb." This exchange was an obvious joke referring to the Texas 14-year-old, Ahmad Mohamed, who was recently arrested and suspended from his high school officials believed his homemade clock looked like a bomb.
Major League Hacking (MLH) was an organizer of Hack Up North and they took quick action after one attendee reported feeling "unsafe" due to the posts.
MLH kicked all three students out of the hackathon, sending them home - presumably to a different city.
I believe that some of you reading this believe that MLH took appropriate action and some of you do not. I won't share here my opinion on MLH's actions, but I will say this: It doesn't really matter!
I attend Hackathons as a guest of the organizers and as a representative of my employer. I've established limited agreements with both of these organization that I will abide by their rules.
In this case the rules were set by the hackathon's code of conduct and interpreted by MLH.
Some will look at this as a free speech issue, as if free speech were an absolute right, which it is not. Even setting aside the fact that this hackathon took place in Canada where the US Constitution's First Amendment holds no weight, our rights of free speech are limited by the rights of others and by agreements into which we enter. Also, free speech only protects us from the law - not from social consequences that our words trigger. If you visit my house and say something offensive to me, I'm well within my rights to kick you out of my house.
The lesson here is a simple one: Think before you post something in a public forum. How will it be interpreted? Will others feel threatened by it? How will you be perceived by those who read it?
At a minimum, pausing to consider your next public post may save you from embarrassment. It may even save you an early and unexpected trip home.