The dark side of social media

Posted in: #thinklist, Social media

What's the reality for women academics on social media? Do we need to differentiate our public and private personas? In our final blog post reflecting on our #thinklist event, we discuss the dark side of social media and how our online activities may be used against us. We also explore the potential of social media to challenge structural change and consider how academics are walking the delicate tightrope between private and public boundaries.


Women and social media

A few weeks ago Lauren McCarthy was trolled on Twitter. This trolling related not just to content that she had posted on the topic of sexism, but fundamentally to her presence as a woman online.

Unfortunately, such incidences are not few and far between, with over a quarter of women in the UK experiencing online abuse and harassment. While Lauren tried to engage – to perhaps spark off a conversation – it is important to know when to engage and when to not engage with online negativity.

This could be one of the reasons why there are so few women on the #thinklist - which is undeniably dominated by men - but there are also other factors at play.  We explored some of these issues when we first launched the list and these came up again in our November discussion. Lauren argues that women are doing much more of the additional ‘invisible’ work that surrounds both academic and family life, and therefore finding time to tweet and maintain a high social media profile can be tough. As a previous commenter said:

Do I pay attention to twitter or help my kids with their homework ...the choice is pretty obvious Klout score be damned. I'm not saying my male colleagues don't face the same choice but it's pretty telling that your list was so male dominated


In the discussion, Tanusree Jain suggested that the pool of women in responsible business research is small in itself, meaning that Twitter only perpetuates the inequalities that we see in daily ‘offline’ life. The key, Tanusree argued, is for women to have more senior role models in the institution - although research from our School of Management has shown how hard this can be.


Public and private personas

The discussion about the risks of sharing opinions in a public forum led into a reflection on the boundary between our public and private personas. For Ioannis, being vocal about his political beliefs was part of his ‘moral duty’ to share the truth. ‘There are no disconnects between what I say online and what I say in the classroom,’ he commented. For Lauren, who researches and engages in feminist activism, the risks of being opened up to abuse through advocating a particular world view are very real. Are we different people on Twitter from who we are in the classroom? She reflected that she was happy to share personal views on Twitter but would not do so in the classroom.


The role of institutions

The discussion then turned to consider how institutions may be policing these boundaries for us. There are different takes on this issue. While some universities offer strict guidelines and regulate social media voices of academics, others are left to their own devices. While this raises interesting questions for freedom of speech in a digital age, Mark Carrigan commented that most universities do in fact have social media policies regarding academics, but many do not know how to deal with complaints. He sees the University College Union (UCU) and professional bodies as having an important role to play in this area in the future.


So, where next for social media in the life of responsible business academics? We plan to reflect on these further at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting in 2019. We look forward to continuing the conversation.


Header image by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Posted in: #thinklist, Social media

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