Yesterday, an anonymous PhD student posted an article on The Guardian criticizing the use of social media in the academic environment. Initially, it piqued my interest because it combined my two loves: science and social media. Soon after, I saw the article go viral and receive a lot of backlash.
Now, the author did deserve a lot of that criticism. Many of the comments were quite condescending and based on impressions rather then personal experience. Hidden behind the snark were some interesting truths. This post explores the truths and bulldust behind the Guardian article.
You can check out of the article in full here: I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer
Here’s Where The Author Was Right:
There Is A Lot Of Pressure To Build A Personal Brand
When I read this article, the first thing that stood out to be was the phrase ‘professional Instagrammer.’ I’m not sure how many academics read up on social media trends, but professional Instagramming is an actual job. It can be a lucrative job, but a job that involves curating a lifestyle to fit the audiences — and brands — expectations.
Many articles targeted at individuals using social media focus on this aspect of it. The articles are targeted towards those whose blog, or social media presence, is a full time job. I can completely understand why this isn’t appealing.
Frankly, the blogging communities I’m part of are many years ahead in terms of the platforms used. The social media tools that many academics are using are the ones I used prolifically in 2010. If science communication follows similar trends then things will get more fragmented. I can understand why that isn’t appealing, especially if your work is already time consuming.
Live Tweeting Doesn’t Mean Everything
When did it become acceptable to use your phone throughout a lecture, let alone an entire conference? No matter how good you think you are at multitasking, you will not be truly focusing your attention on the speaker, who has no doubt spent hours preparing for this moment.
Some advocates argue that social media provides a form of dissemination — a way to share the conference with those who are unable to attend. For some tweeters, I am sure that is the case. But it appears that the majority perform this ritual as proof of their dedication to the profession, as if posting a picture marks them out as more enthusiastic than their peers.
I’ve been the professional live tweeter for the Problogger conference for the past 4 years. In the blogging community, it is almost expected that you would have multiple members of the audience tweeting. From my experience, live tweeting can have a huge impact. However the members of the Problogger conference audience are tweeting to an audience that is incredibly active on twitter.
Additionally, the writer is correct in that you won’t be focusing on what the speaker is saying. I barely remember the contents of the presentations I tweeted; I had to rely on those tweets later. I did find, however, that those tweets proved to be an incredibly useful resource.
The true skill lies in what you do with those tweets and how you share them with the community. Storify is a popular way of curating and can be a useful discussion point. So does creating a blog post, especially if that blog posts expands on the content in the presentation. Both have the potential to be shared a lot outside of those who attended the conference.
From my experience thought, twitter is only a popular form of communication for a period of years. Then it gets fragmented. At the last conference, there were only a small number of people tweeting. Instead, people were creating custom quote graphics for other platforms
This article did slam a lot of the audience. Hopefully, though, it can lead to discussions about how people can be smarter with their live tweeting.
There Is A Lot Of Sucking Up On Social Media
I’ve been blogging for over 8 years. In that time, I’ve worked as a networking assistant and blogging consultant. I’ve seen the best and the worst of the industry.
Some of the people I worked for were incredibly popular in their niche. You wouldn’t believe the sleazy behaviour some people did in order to get the attention of somebody ‘famous’.
It probably doesn’t exist in academia to the same extent but I can see why it is a turn off. There is a reason why I stepped back and made the decision to go back to uni.
Here’s Where The Author Is Wrong:
Employability *Will* Be Tied To Who Has Stronger Personal Brands.
I can understand how this is annoying. Your body of work should be what makes you stand out, not how many followers you have on a particular platform.
The author equated social media with many of the vacuous parts of fame. However, look at things from an employers perspective.
Someone who has more connections, and is a better communicator, is, in many cases, more of an asset. It means they have more potential collaborators. More people willing to listen to and share their message. This concept was explored in a follow up article on the Guardian.
None of my journal articles reached 500,000 readers; my blogging on the Confederate flag and the racism inherent in southern secessionism did, though. My Twitter “essays” pushing back against efforts to sanitize parts of the American past weren’t in a refereed journal or part of a carefully-selected conference panel, but they opened the door for my upcoming appearance in a documentary about race and the American carceral state, which will reach more than the small handful of attendees at a Sunday morning conference session.
It can be hard to see how small connections and moments can lead to big things when you are just starting out. Sharing more examples and case studies may help teach young academics about the benefits of social media.
Social Media Shouldn’t Be Seen As A Separate Activity, It Should Be Seen As Another Form Of Dissemination
A brilliant commenter, Fiona L, pointed out:
Lots of activities fall under the ‘dissemination’ bracket, however, from publishing, to presenting at conferences, to press coverage, to school visits to talk to students, to local science festivals, to social media. (quote from post)
Many of the posts have focused on academics and how they have personally benefitted from social media. I’m not an academic. I’m an agoraphobic that struggles to leave the house, but still has a fascination with environmental science. Twitter has been my lifeline.
The generosity of many academics has helped me so much. I follow the work of John White and was seriously contemplating going to Deakin to study. I ended up choosing a course that is available via distance education and will start that when my health improves. Thanks to Manu Saunders I’m learning about pollinators when scrolling through my feed. I’ve learned so much that I’ve then been able to share with other amateur naturalists, either in person or on different social networks.
My example may be at the extreme end but I can assure you, many schools are now integrating social media into the learning process. This is just starting. 🙂 Just by listening to conversations I am learning so much.
In Conclusion –
I can understand the authors frustrations. Many facets of social media are false. However those that just dismiss it are missing out on so much.
I found a number of interesting quotes and potential discussion points while researching this article. I’m sharing them here just in case they help anyone writing about this topic.
Yes, there are well-documented problems with harassment and other bad behaviors on social media, but stopping there ignores the fact that these are problems inherent in academia itself: the structures of privilege and choices made by bad actors in any medium.
I agree with this v. much: https://t.co/2mSbAoagA3 Lots of "diversification" in academic roles means we don't know what's expected any more.
— Chris Pedder (@ChrispyPedder) August 5, 2016
Things I've got from Twitter
-Academic collaboration offers
-Artist collab on personal scicomm project
— Rob O' Sullivan (@Rob0Sullivan) August 5, 2016
Why I Tweet Manu Saunders shares her experience as well as providing a lot of useful links
Twitter: revolutionising scientific communication one hashtag at a time This post includes useful science-related hashtags
Science Communication as a Moral Imperative While things are improving, we need to do a much better job of encouraging scientists to be stronger communicators, and share the wonders of science, and the important results of their research, to the broader world. To do less is a moral failure of science and academia.
Our national parks must be more than playgrounds or paddocks A case study of how a collection of tweets became a co-written article
Social Media-users or Not, Scientists Must Be Communicators I’ll definitely be checking out this website more
The sad little #seriousacademic A much needed alternate viewpoint. Frankly, these are the type of blog posts we need — helping young academics see the joy in social media.
A SERIOUS ACADEMIC, AM I, AM I Another great article offering sympathy for the original author