Twitter helps academics to make connections, avoid isolation and provides a platform for speaking out on the issues that matter. These were just some of the reflections from our #thinklist event in November, and we'll be sharing more in a series of blog posts over the next week. In our first post we discuss the art of being an academic, and how social media plays an important role in sparking off new conversations and building community.
What does an airy egg-based dish have to do with social media I hear you cry? Well, a lot if you are Thomas Roulet who likened academic life, and social media therein, as the art of blending together a variety of ingredients and making something ‘new’:
the #soufflé metaphor explained: our academic life is not a pie with one slice for research, one for engagement, one for teaching. It's a soufflé in which you put all those ingredients in and you wait for them to grow 🙂 #thinklist @BathCBOS @ethicscrane @Sarah_CSR Bon appétit! pic.twitter.com/Bh4J6CIZYE
— Thomas Roulet (@thomroulet) November 29, 2018
The fact that this quote alone cultivated the strongest post-event discussion via Twitter (4,476 impressions and 162 engagements for our tweet on this) is an important case in point. Twitter – and social media alike – provoke conversations; conversations that span offline and online worlds and create new knowledge. Social media are curation tools, they are also conversation starters. Thomas Roulet commented that he shares things online that are “fun, interesting and stimulate debate”. He argued for the benefit of procrastinating via social media. We should not believe that our time as academics can be broken down into discrete chunks. Let’s put in the ingredients across all of the facets of our daily life and watch our influence grow!
Building a community
This conversation-starting can also play an important role in cultivating a sense of community. For many, this was why the #thinklist provides so much utility in helping to identify who people should follow in the responsible business community. For Tanusree Jain, social media provided a strong network in fighting isolation during her early days as a PhD student. The contacts Tanusree made also helped her to set writing goals, to find people who were going through similar stresses and strains as she was.
‘Tweeting doesn’t take away from writing, it’s helping you write.’
But social media doesn’t always provide the connections that you need when you need them. As Lauren McCarthy commented, many times that she asks a question in social media, she fails to get a response. Comments can fall into the digital ether and the best way to ensure interaction is to provide reflections and tag people in: ask people to join the party and they will come. Indeed as Mark Carrigan argued in his thought-provoking keynote, social media are much more visible than research in traditional journals and provide new ways of working. Perhaps we can even curate our own academic departments online. However, this all came with a word of caution:
'There is a danger in believing that continuing to talk will improve the conversation…'
Speaking the truth
Yet, far from just reactionary tools, Ioannis Ioannou commented on the strategic use of social media and the ‘moral responsibility of academics to ‘share the truth, call out fake news and point society to a strong evidence base’. Here he touched on the climate change debate and the important role of academics as knowledge-gatekeepers in a ‘post-truth world’. To Ioannis this is not about activism per se, but more our duty to share scientific expertise. Is it our moral responsibility to speak out and share the truth?
It is perhaps not surprising, given how prolific Ioannis is on social media (he has 39.7K followers!), that he sees social media as a tool that is deeply embedded in his daily routine. ‘It takes a millisecond to comment on something,’ he argued, as he advocated the connection of social media to his life as an academic in producing, translating and disseminating knowledge. He does not see social media as a ‘separate activity’.
What do you think? Would you agree that social media are useful in building communities and providing interaction? Do we have a sense of moral responsibility to use social media to disseminate the ‘truth’? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us
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