Academic Twitter: is it worth it?

How can academic Twitter be useful?

 

Networking: Twitter can be useful for academics to identify and connect with global peers. Connecting with authors of texts or other people working in the same field of interest can be very useful and enlightening. Webinar and conference presenters often share their Twitter handles as well as their email addresses, so it can be a quick way to get in touch with people whose ideas interest you. You can also promote conferences you’ll be attending, and follow hashtags for conferences, to re-introduce yourself to people you’ve met there.

 


 

Career options: Game developers often tweet links to job postings, or signal boost skilled friends who are in need of a career change. Academic Twitter can work the same way.

A retweet of a tweet by a job seeker.

 

Self-promotion: Part of the appeal of certain academic programs lies in the reputation of their faculty. Just as faculty can connect to other faculty via Twitter, a Twitter presence can help a student feel more connected to “the real” professor they learn from, and can help faculty promote their teaching style, conference appearances, or any writing they do to a wider audience.

 

Research: Following a number of people in your field on Twitter can point you towards new authors or published works in your field of study. Matt Reed, writing for Inside Higher Ed, refers to academic Twitter as a “self-updating annotated bibliography.” Additionally, the London School of Economics and Political Science found that research articles penned by academics with a Twitter presence are more widely tweeted, and are therefore also more widely cited. LSE further discovered that when academic journals themselves have a Twitter presence, their articles are 46% more tweeted.

 

How can academic Twitter be harmful?

Like any technology, however, Twitter can absolutely have a bad side. The saga of the Drexel professor who seemingly couldn’t keep his tweeting fingers under control is a famous case.

The AAUP’s longstanding Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure says that faculty members “should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances.” Hence, it says, “they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”

As easy as it can be to fire off a tweet without thinking, it’s important to remember that 160 characters are very limiting, and one single tweet (even in the middle of a thread) can easily be taken out of context and misconstrued. It’s also important to remember that people who follow you can see the things you tweet, retweet, and like, so it’s not even safe to click that little heart on an off-color tweet. In fact, people who follow you may even get a notification that you liked it!

Keep in mind – just as Twitter can aid your career and your reputation, so too can it damage it. Imagine a prospective parent doing research on the school their child is interested in attending, and finding your offensive tweet or a news story about it? Some semi-public figures keep both a private and public Twitter account – but it’s important in this case to always double-check which account you’re posting to.

Don’t forget that the story of the inflammatory Drexel professor ended with his resignation from a tenured position. The things you tweet have consequences, and even if you delete them, people are perfectly capable of taking screen shots or dredging them up other ways.

It’s important to consider as well that even if you’re saying something completely unremarkable in your field – like, for example, that “white college males” should be defined as a “problem population” – people who are not well versed in your field can search Twitter for points of view like these in an attempt to create drama and take these concepts out of context. Saida Grundy, who had accepted a position at Boston University, ran afoul of these types of people and managed to come out of the situation well. Colleagues in her field supported her, and there was no action taken against her by Boston University. What’s the difference between Grundy and our friend from Drexel? Intent and a good reputation in one’s field.

Conclusion

Academic use of Twitter, or other social media platforms, can be both risky and rewarding. As a voice of authority in your field and a member of an academic community, stay thoughtful about what and how you engage with others online. Before posting, give yourself time to think critically about who might see your tweet or comment and what it will mean to them. See others’ points of views and never forget that they exist.