After the flamewar over rage at the current academic job market, in which the rage was redirected onto Tenured Radical for daring to question the long-term effectiveness of complaining about the behavior of one search committee, TR wrote a post suggesting that it’s time to have a conversation about the professional use of social media:
My question is this: given that social media is ubiquitous among academics, and given that our colleagues and students are sometimes justifiably angry about important things, ought we not to have some more serious discussions about what kind of speech we do — and do not — find acceptable? Should we not begin to identify what kinds of virtual conversations lead to real change and community building; and which are destructive, vengeful or personal hubris masquerading as charismatic leadership?
There are clear signs that if we do not begin to have these conversations among ourselves, others will seize the initiative and faculty will find ourselves perpetually in the position of responding to university attorneys, trustees, politicians and administrators.
Great idea, right? So far the flamewar at Tenured Radical has 190 comments (and counting!), whereas after three days the post suggesting that we all come together to figure out how to use social media productively for professional purposes has 34 comments. That’s a little clue as to how easy and fun it is to tear someone down, make assumptions about their motives and professional experiences, and generally act like a jerk in social media, whereas it’s relatively difficult to build something together.
Please note: this is not a blog post calling for civility, which I agree can be cover for preserving the power relations of the status quo. This is a blog post proposing some guiding rules for the professional use of social media for those of us in academia (but they may apply in other professions, too). As we’ve all been reminded endlessly over the past decade, The World Is Flat, and graduate students can email, Tweet, and comment on the blogs of full professors, and vice-versa. This familiarity with one another over social media has been for the most part a good thing for everyone involved, but TR is right that we need to think about formulating some community standards before they’re formulated for us by our educators and/or employers.
This blog has always been about community-building, so friends, let’s rent a barn and put on a show! At the risk of being torn to shreds myself, I’ll propose a set of guiding principles just to get the conversation going. You tell me what you think I’ve missed and where I’m wrong, and together we’ll propose a set of guiding principles for the professional use of social media. After a few days, I’ll publish our collectively revised or rewritten list of guiding principles.
Who cares if you tear me or my ideas to shreds–I’m just a pretend cowgirl! What do I care? It doesn’t upset me if you think I’m too much of a Miss Suzy Sunshine. Others have said worse! Blogs and social media should be used for community building, support, and honest conversations, not to rip apart complete strangers, but I understand that’s not how everyone uses social media. (Apparently, some people use Twitter to talk behind other people’s backs without understanding that we can overhear them. Duh! They also do this, and say much worse, under their own names! Kudos for their honesty, but maybe they should be thinking about who else is reading and coming to conclusions about their worthiness as prospective colleagues.)
Guiding principles for the professional use of social media:
- The Golden Rule: don’t publish anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
- Don’t make assumptions about the motives or personal experience that may inform the social media commentary of others.
- If you are the proprietor of a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, think before you write and edit before you publish. Think again: is my post or comment useful, necessary, or productive?
- If you are a commenter on someone else’s social media account or platform: Consider the intended audience for a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, and be respectful of the proprietor’s online space and attention.
- If someone publishes a nasty or personal post or comment about you or something you’ve written, resist the urge to return the favor. Read it two or three times to be sure you’re not overreacting or feeding a flamewar. Consider ignoring it if it’s really inflammatory, but otherwise use your teaching skills to turn it around: is there something in the comment of value you can address respectfully, thereby modeling the kind of conversation you’d like to be a part of?
Here are my rationales for these principles, in seriatum:
- No one likes a jerk, and when you’re a jerk online, you are performing jerkiness before a potential audience of hundreds or thousands.
- You can always ask a blogger or Tweeter why they wrote what they wrote, or ask for further clarification before unloading on them.
- Since when is thinking a bad thing? Aren’t we inteleckshuals?
- See rule #1, and remember: don’t be a jerk.
- Let your productive, positive social media presence speak for itself. If you lie down with the dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.