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Social Media

Kick and Ban

Yesterday, a Twitter employee made the account of Donald Trump disappear for 11 minutes. Twitter’s reaction showed the world how fucked up the company still remains. The incident and their response was a welcome moment of respite in a very long and strenuous nightmare.


Of course, if Twitter’s community rules were anything more than cosmetic, he would’ve been kicked and banned long ago. Threatening nuclear annihilation on an entire nation, for example, is definitely against the rules. We’ve known for a long time that rules don’t apply evenly on Twitter. Bots, literal nazis, white supremacists and harassers benefit from their lax application everyday.
Another funny way they trampled their own policies was when they acknowledged it, as Sarah Jeong remarked.


No doubt, they are flattered that the President of the US uses the platform so actively to keep in touch with his supporters, threaten his enemies in clear violation of their terms of service and pass the time during his bouts of insomnia.
The incident also points to something very peculiar and concerning. Twitter, like all the centralized hegemonic platforms of the day, can’t decide what it wants to be.
The fact that social media platforms are amorphous and yet incredibly impactful allows their managers to take themselves seriously in the worst possible ways. Twitter exec’s freespeech and growth above-all approach doomed the platform to become a toxic wasteway. They should’ve listened when Ariel Waldman brought attention to the escalating harassment on Twitter in 2008. But they weren’t interested in sound community and product management and design — apparently. These things seem trivial when you’re busy re-engineering a new free-speech utopia and raking-in cash in the process.
They completely lost their minds during the Arab spring. People using their products on Tahrir Square in 2011 and the credit that the media gave them inflated their egos. It cemented their belief that giving everyone a voice unfettered by social conventions or fear of consequences was a politically powerful thing and, in their Silicon Valley arrogance, they didn’t pause to think; they soldiered on. Charlie Warzel’s infamous Buzzfeed piece about Twitter’s abuse problem shows this beautifully.
How nothing of what happened in between 2011 and last year’s US election didn’t make them change course is beyond me. It is now clear that, at least, some measure of Russian meddling was involved in the election through social media. Silicon Valley companies, under scrutiny from US Congress and the threat of losing the public’s trust forever, are forced into introspective journeys. Whether it’s for show or earnestly is still unclear. Articles that come out these days are concerning. It appears Twitter, for example, was so obsessed with growth that it slowed down the spam team on purpose and allowed Russian and Ukrainian bots to remain on the platform. Ah!
Our 11 minutes of freedom from Donald Trump’s Twitter and how the company chose to respond shows Twitter hasn’t learned a thing. Is the world going to crumble if the President can’t tweet about nuclear war and/or TV ratings in the Palace at 4am?
It won’t. He and his ilk should be banned. The ideas of free-speech without consequences and growth at all cost should be uprooted from the Valley. Plain and simple. Bots, nazis, white supremacists and harassers should be kicked and banned with full force — IP addresses, device fingerprinting, the technical abilities exist if engineers get on the case.
In the early days of the internet, etiquette was important and you could be banned from IRC channels, forums… for offenses that today would be considered mild. It would sting, you would learn how to behave and move to other IRC servers or forums. Decentralization allowed that. Now Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn see themselves as all-encompassing platforms. But they aren’t the internet and they shouldn’t strive to be. Banning these bad actors is not such a big deal and it is the right thing to do. I know a bot…

Categories
Social Media

Should Academics Try Twitter?

Yes. Absolutely. According to this tongue-in-cheek chart. No, but seriously. You absolutely should  — at least — try it.


(Thanks, @amisamileandme for forwarding this chart to me)
At the beginning of August 2016, a Guardian article written by an anonymous PhD student attacked the use of social media for academic work. It was published under the patronising title “I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer”. It sparked a healthy and very interesting debate on Twitter under the hashtag #SeriousAcademic.
Many academics in various stages of their careers wrote tweets and articles contradicting this article. They mentioned many uses of social media for their work (as well as their social life and entertainment).
One of the most interesting and complete responses I’ve seen came from Jacquelyn Gill, an ice age ecologist at the University of Maine (Thanks, @kevinmarks for bringing it to my attention). Her two-tweet response and the discussions that ensued are worth a read.


Academics with blogs also reacted strongly.
Leigh Sparks (@sparks_stirling) from the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, offers My Serious Academic Use of Blogs and Twitter. This retail specialist summarizes lessons learned on the usefulness of social media to his career.
Dean Burnett (@garwboy), doctor of neuroscience, comedy writer and stand-up, parodies the original article. Doing so, he offers many links on the problems usage of social media in academia may address with I’m a non-serious academic. I make no apologies for this also on the Guardian platform. Social media provided him with alternative prospects since his field is oversubscribed.
Kevin Gannon (@TheTattooedProf), a history professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa offers a rebuke to the original article and deconstructs the notion of “serious academic” in I’ve Got a Serious Problem with “Serious Academics”.
Main benefits of a presence on social media for academics put forth by these articles and tweets are:

  • Sharing enthusiasm and supporting each other
  • Adding researchers to your network and create stronger ties which might lead to cooperation opportunities
  • Exchange sources and references which may be useful for research and/or funny.
  • Increase the circulation and readership of your work (books, peer-reviewed articles, blog posts, quotes in the press, etc.)
  • Increase the odds journalists will contact you for stories.
  • Have control of your online image and not depend on your institution’s staff web pages.
  • Using it as a back-channel for conferences and other events to get noticed by participants and organisers.
  • Promoting your field and providing expertise to the general public simply by inhabiting those online spaces and having your exchanges archived. For the Liberal Arts and Humanities, such a presence makes it easier to present our disciplines in a positive light outside of the frame of crisis / being set aside that has been pervasive in the media these last few years.

Social media is only a drag if you try to control too tightly. You have to find and/or define boundaries, yes. However, most academics who report seeing benefits use social media as humans first and foremost because that is how you can connect with people. That’s the charm of social media. Again, don’t take my word for it:


If you do social media like this, you’ll reap benefits and it won’t feel like yet another professional task. Putting on a mask is orders of magnitude more complicated than learn to inhabit those spaces as yourself.
There’s a range of openness, of course. It is a matter of personal style, how visible and likely you feel to attract unwanted attention from racists and misogynists.
One thing is for certain, trying to remain 100% on-brand on social media will exhaust you and make you come across as fake. You should be yourself, inhabit the online public space as best you can and try to be a good online citizen. As long as you let your passion and your expertise shine, you’re on the right track.
Done well, your online presence can be about work, show a bit of yourself and feel genuine while you maintain boundaries that seem clear and healthy to you. Clara Nellist’s Twitter feed is a great example. I follow her because particle physics is cool (and she seems nice). Although we don’t interact directly, her tweets are full of value and the occasional glimpse into her life as a postdoc makes her relatable. Tweets about her travels or some of her outside activities make it easy and fun to connect. For example, learning that she finished the 20 kilomètres de Paris and seeing her proud selfie put a smile on my face.
The more human you are the easier it will be to make genuine connections with other humans. That’s why it’s called social networking. You can find out all about this approach in Stephanie Booth’s one-hour talk entitled “Be Your Best Offline Self Online“. (She helps people get started and manage their online presence in one-to-one and one-to-many workshops. She’s nice and very knowledgeable. I met her through her blog.)

If you feel motivated to start on social media, I would advise you to start with Twitter: Messages are short, it is public by default, there is very little to misunderstand.
The London School of Economics and Political Science published “Five minutes with Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson: “Blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now” on their IMPACT blog all the way back in 2012.
They also have a Twitter Guide that may be a bit dated as it is from 2011. More importantly though, they have a list of Twitter users active in the Humanities and Arts for you to follow.

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Social Media

Twitter keeps the burden of moderation on users

The Buzzfeed piece about Twitter abuse that makes the rounds since last Thursday proves to be a very interesting read. The way the abuse problem has been left to fester is infuriating. So much so that while reading I took notes. Notes laced with profanity. Here are a few thoughts.
Free speech radicalism is an easy extremist tenet to hold in many ways. First, it is often defended by people who don’t know abuse at all. They, therefore, don’t have to make any sacrifices for this radical belief of theirs. Second, it is — in theory — a steadfast policy that protects the company from liabilities. They can then say that they’re a utility and don’t make content decisions.
It stems, however, from a weird idea of free speech. Free speech is great. I wouldn’t want the government to silence me but I want to be held accountable for the shit I say. Free speech radicals seem to have another definition. To many of them, free speech as being allowed to say whatever you want, often without suffering any consequences. Allowing people to be protected from the consequences of shitty actions and shitty words is not a moral imperative. It creates a toxic environment where a few assholes can police the speech of all the others by unleashing barrages of abuse and threats. It doesn’t help foster more productive debates. Just the opposite.
Yet, once people accept something needs to be done, the search for the ‘perfect solution’ begins… This search lead to paralysis as Vivian Schiller is reported as saying in the piece. Extremists always ask for a perfect solution before letting go of their own problematic one. Always seeking to swap an extremism for another. But that’s not how the social space works, that’s not how humans function and communicate. There needs to be moderation in every sense of the word. We need kind and intelligent judgment calls and concessions. There needs to be consistency obviously but no solution will ever be perfect.
Jack Dorsey is quoted as saying “No employee should ever be in the position of having to decide, subjectively, what qualifies as free speech and what does not”. This makes me doubtful that this problem will ever be mitigated. It will always come down to human judgment whether the judgment of a moderator or the judgment of an engineer designing an algorithm. Stress cases will always arise where the meaning of free speech will need to be discussed. Putting the burden completely on the users to moderate is again non-committal safe in the sense that investors might not punish the company and it won’t unleash lawsuits but it won’t fix the problem that for a vast majority of users, being on Twitter is very tiring work, an energy drain and often even a safety concern.
Large organizations all have things they’d rather not discuss (*cough* web governance *cough*), power struggles they’d rather not address, ambiguities that are preserved even if they hurt the business because it is believed that somehow these discussions would never end and distract everyone. I firmly believe leaders should encourage these discussions nonetheless. Especially in this case.

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Social Media

Event promoting tweets require forethought, time and a well staffed team

Many event organisers want high-level promotion to raise attendance. They often turn to social media to promote. The tweet below is densely packed with information about “Content Marketing World 2016”. It is designed to entice the @CMIContent account’s followers to register for the conference but also to encourage the featured speaker to promote their talk.


I see conferences use similar communication tactics but seldom as expertly or efficiently as Content Marketing World. This tweet is best-of-class and emulating it is out-of-reach for many conferences. Even though it is an image and a well-written tweet, getting all the information packed in that tweet that much in advance of the event is a real challenge.
Let’s list all the elements we see in the graphic top to bottom and left to right:

  • Conference’s name: Content Marketing World 2016
  • Subtitle used across several social media posts (here, to link them to a successful movie franchise).
  • “I’m speaking!” which denotes excitement at the idea and makes the image especially suited to be shared by speakers themselves.
  • Speaker photo: standardised and square for use on the website and in all other communication.
  • Short version of the speaker bio (which complements the long version that’s on the website).
  • Conference’s logo
  • Conference’s date
  • City in which the conference will take place
  • URL of their website
  • Conference’s hashtag

And in the tweet itself…

  • The speaker’s Twitter handle
  • The hashtag
  • A promotional code (again this entices the speaker to share the post)
  • A short link to the conference website.

Once you have all those elements, it’s rather simple to produce the images either manually in a graphics program or programmatically (if there are many many speakers). Even tweets can be generated programmatically and uploaded into a scheduling tool such as Hootsuite.
The challenge is in assembling all these elements well in advance. It takes forethought, time and a well staffed team. A venue must be secured. Speakers have to be selected and confirmed. Editors have to work with speakers to hone their long biographies, craft the two line biographies, obtain the right picture and the relevant social media handles. You can’t deploy those smart marketing tactics until you have good content to support them.

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Social Media

10 steps to live-tweet debates

Live tweeting panels is hard. 140 characters is very little. The main goals when covering an event alone is to testify that the event has taken place and that people following either in-person or on a live stream have gotten something important out of it. This encourages attendance for the next events obviously and raises the profile of the organizer.
Go through the list of panelists and search their presence on social media. That maybe frustrating in an academic setting because you’ll often find that they don’t have one. However, you may be surprised! Some prominent figures in the academic world are pretty active on Twitter. Journalists and politicians are also often on social media. Try to memorize their twitter handles or make a list on your laptop. Panelists will retweet you if you show up in their notifications. Accidental subtweeting can be embarrassing but it’s bound to happen.
Announce the event, live-tweet and possible streaming a few days in advance. Give all the necessary details. If many or all of the participants are active online, prepare an announcement tweet featuring each of them. Schedule those tweets at regular intervals. Keep in mind that you might have to mention each of them for fairness’ sake.
Choose your #hashtag with care. Discuss hashtag with coworkers. Go for the obvious one. If the event is about current affairs, chances are there will be one already. Look at trending topics. Make a few searches about the subject of the event. The hashtag will come to you. If all this fails, invent one. If the topic is too controversial, try flying below the radars by using the name of the organizer and the date. Being roped into arguments about the event’s organisation and the choice of panelists during the live tweeting of the event is a nightmare. Try to avoid that even if it means loosing a little visibility.
Be there early. Find a good place. Next to the center aisle is good so you can get up to take pictures. Before the event, encourage people to join one last time and comment positively on the attendance. If there’s a live stream, add a link in those first tweets.
Be accurate. If you’re not sure that the tweet accurately conveys the things that have been said, don’t send it. It’s better to have a partial account than an inaccurate one. If you engage the responsibility of the event’s organizers, misrepresenting the guests could impact their ability to get guests in the future.
Focus on tiny statements. They might seem inconsequential in the grander scheme of the debate but that’s all you can count on. In fact, chances are the grander scheme of the debate will escape you because you’ll be busy trying to catch tweet-worthy soundbites. There’s no way you can follow, synthesize and live-tweet a debate at the same time. If you need a synthesis and live-tweets, take two different people. You can count on partners, especially if the panel has members of the press on it. There will be journalists in the audience. Follow them and publicize their content.
Describe the topic in general. If you can’t be accurate and focus on tiny statements, describe what is being discussed without conveying judgments or opinions. Tell who is speaking and what topics he focuses on without going into details that might introduce inaccuracies. This technique works especially well with pictures.
Post pictures. Pictures do well on Twitter and they don’t require detailed Sit in a place where no empty seats show. Enlist coworkers with phones to send you pictures during the event. You will be able to post pictures from various angles.
Be fair. Find a way to mention and represent every single panelist. Sometimes, this is going to be hard. Some people don’t make tiny statements especially if they get emotional. Use every trick in the books to give them the most equal possible air time. The casual observer of your live-tweet should be able to reconstruct the guest list from your tweets.
Do not make public comments on the quality of the coverage. It isn’t your place to comment on the quality of the partners’ work. You need them. You can count on your followers and the guests themselves to point things out and issue corrections. But do not like or comment on them. Interfere only to kick and ban assholes.
After the event. Round up pictures and take the good ones and put them in a Facebook album (if you got a page) as a long term testament of the event. Since it’s a public event that is publicized, you can tag people in it. If you tag the panelists, you have to tag all of them.
You can keep posting about your event until you announce the next one. Take advantage of transcripts, round-ups, video and audio as they come out.