22 June 2017

Academics and their Social Media Presence

Thao Nelson from Indiana University wrote an article for Maclean's entitled Dear students, what you post can wreck your life. In this article, Nelson argues that students should think twice about posting any comment on social media that references (1) illegal drugs, sexual posts; (2) incriminating or embarrassing photos or videos; (3) profanity, defamatory or racist comments; (4) politically charged attacks; (5) spelling and grammar issues; or (6) complaining or bad-mouthing. Nelson admonishes:
Would you want a future boss, admissions officer, or blind date to read or see it? If not, don’t post it. If you already have, delete it because social media becomes part of a person’s brand—a brand that can help you or hurt you. If we ask this of our students, what should we be asking ourselves as anthropologists?

Nelson's set of guidelines follow our recent post about The Relationship between Social Justice & Anthropology that included the following sub-texts: (1) What is the connection between anthropology, social justice, and activism? (2) What is the role of anthropologists in the current context of terror and terrorism as it may affect our interlocuters and field sites?

Arguably the most common outlet for activism is social media which raises the next question: What is the role and where are the boundaries for academics who engage as public intellectuals or, are recognized as academics (working for specific institutions that may receive blow back or which are associated with 'said' academic's opinions) in the public sphere?

In Frank Donoghue's article for The Chronicle for Higher Education: #WatchWhatYouSay, after detailing a few high profile cases of academics losing their jobs on account of their posts on social media, Donoghue argues that:
The originators of the concept of academic freedom could not have imagined Facebook, Twitter, or personal blogs. Yet clearly the time has come to recognize the impact of social media on academic freedom — and the bottom line seems to be that it has created an environment in which it is increasingly difficult to differentiate private communication from public speech and to parse how that increasingly blurred line affects a professor’s protection under academic freedom. Those cases, which are far from simple, underscore the fact that professors’ audiences now extend far beyond those who attend lectures and read scholarly articles.
In 2015, Elizabeth Raymer wrote an article 'Faculty in Canada may not need rules for using social media, observers say' for University Affairs which argued that Canada's social media context is different from academics in the U.S.. Raymer interviewed academics SFU’s School of Communication including Peter Chow-White who argued that,
"But social media guidelines are more about public behaviour", (...) adding that an assumed part of professional practice is not saying things that are inappropriate. “I’ve heard of social media guidelines for athletes at universities,” said Dr. Chow-White, "but when you’re in the business of ideas, the way we are, that’s your currency. The benefit you can bring to society is an open exchange of ideas."
Returning to the growing support for AltMetrics, are academics prepared? Has there been a shift since Raymer's 2015 article where Chow-White was also quoted as saying: (I'm) not sure professors necessarily need guidelines. We publish on a regular basis; if we can write articles and books … we probably don’t need to be told how to write a 140-character tweet.

We want to hear from you (on social media):
  1. Are you comfortable tweeting, blogging, and/or vlogging in the absence of a peer review process (that would accompany the articles and books that Chow-White describes)?
  2. Do you think Canadian academics require social media guidelines? Note: some Canadian universities or departments within universities have already adopted such guidelines.
  3. In 2017, is there a distinction between personal and professional social media presence?  
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