How I use Twitter as an academic

An enormous amount of academic life happens in digital spaces these days. The microblogging service Twitter, which has been around since 2007, has all but replaced the academic listserv in 2017.  Despite the various ways that Twitter continues to struggle with content and user management,  it has perhaps accidentally become a widely used professional space for academics to network, exchange ideas, and collaborate. When Twitter works like this, it is brilliant. When Twitter does not work like this, it becomes an incredibly dangerous place for people who are already in precarious positions (for any number of reasons: rank, social identity or identities, job market status, any intersection of the above, etc)

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that academics in general – especially early-stage graduate students – are in desperate need of training, support, & guidance on professional social media spaces. Although more senior scholars are often on social media, they are also secure enough in their positions and academic life in general that their experiences of social media and social networking can be very different than their graduate students.

I’ve been on Twitter since 2010, and I have seen this play out more than a few times, including as a graduate student myself. In these seven years I have maintained what I hope is a very professional profile and I have accidentally amassed a rather large following (in the 1000s). I would not go so far as to say that I am Internet Famous but certainly it is rare I walk into a room now and I don’t know someone there. I try to be very modest about my internet life but I also recognize that is quite difficult when I occupy this space.

People have asked me for years about how I do this. I tweeted yesterday about how I manage my own social media presence, which unexpectedly  got a lot of interest. I thought it might be good to have these up more permanently for reference, as the very nature of Twitter is ephemeral (except for when it’s not). I’ve kept these in mostly 140ch-bites, because brevity is often better than verbosity.

1. Don’t tweet anything that I would not want to see associated with me/my name/my likeness in the international news.

2. Mute people you have to follow for whatever political reason but actively dislike. (it happens.) They don’t know you have them on mute.

3. Mute words that you don’t need to see. I’m not a basketball fan so I have “March Madness” on mute. For example.
I use Tweetdeck to mute individual words. This link explains how you do that on Regular Twitter

4. Everything you say on Twitter is public and reaches lots of people you don’t know.

5. 140 characters (or 280, depending on who you are now) is very, very flattening. Assume the recipient will have the worst interpretation.

6. Twitter is a space for networking and making friends, but also your seniors are watching you. They will write your letters of rec one day. (If you are up for tenure, whatever, they are writing those letters too.)

7. Yelling about politics does not make you a better person. but it does make you feel part of a larger culture of dissatisfication. If that makes you feel better, good for you. It can be more performative than anything else.

8. There is an art to being quiet about some things. This one is hard and takes practice.

9. You like the thing you study, so tweet about what you are doing. Be generous about what you know.

10. Give yourself regular days away from Twitter. People will still be there when you come back. Go outside, watch a film, have a life.