Reading more about academics and social media

Clearly I am not completely done with Social Media yet, so much to read, so much to think about…

I just read Mahon & Bergin (2024)’s “‘Sharing’, Selfhood, and Community in an Age of Academic Twitter”, which in the beginning describes an experience of X/Twitter that I can recognize: The urge to share new publications (or other kinds of successes), the anticipation of responses, and then the urge to respond in real time to whatever others have written (with some underlying urgency, since the discussion is happening NOW, so this is the time to respond). This immediacy is great in the sense that we get a lot of information as soon as it becomes available somewhere. But especially coupled with a sense of obligation to respond to everyone who is addressing us on social media, it also can create problems. We might not take enough time to think through what we want to respond, or to choose to not respond and conserve energy that way. We might get addicted and spend way more time than we want to. And how does engaging in Social Media in this way influence our sense of self?

They investigate this in a fascinating way: They create fictional scenarios based on composits of their own experience and on those reported on in interviews, and then discuss them and draw conclusions. Sounds like fun!

In their first scenario, they explore how we curate our online identity, our brand, in a way that is as coherent, consistent and comprehensible as possible, in a way that “makes sense” to others, and that (as the authors claim, but I am not sure I agree) “prioritizes stability over self-creation”. They say “it becomes difficult to try on new identities or ideas”, which I totally disagree with. Just create a new profile under a pseudonym at first, until you want to link it to your real name? Or state that you are trying new ideas, and then engage in the discussion? The authors state “the natural progressions of thinking and then re-thinking – of thesis and antithesis coexisting in productive tension – are no longer seen as the cornerstones of a reflective life but as unnecessary complications to any cohesive personal brand”, but that is not my experience of the conversations I have had, and the people I have met, on Twitter. But following that claim, their reasoning that “social media platforms can to a large extent alienate, depersonalize, and dehumanize” makes sense. And they describe the struggle to deal with an intended and an actual audience that are not 100% overlapping, which I again recognize. But the whole thing reads a lot more negative than my experience was/is.

In another scenario, a lot of emotional energy and time goes into trying to understand a negative reaction. “Just leaving” social media to get away from this might not be an option due to institutional pressures. The authors then explore what gets lost when we don’t leave, and instead communicate more and more about social media:

  • intimacy: Since we are always out in the open and broadcasting to the world, we loose the opportunity to test ideas with trusted colleagues (which makes me wonder, do the authors never use DMs on Twitter, or take conversations from there to other channels? That happened to me a lot)
  • vulnerability: kinda like above; since everything is public, we might not open up about failures or doubts or difficulties (but then again, why not limit your audience?)
  • acknowledgement: this is about being aware of the impact that our tweets might have, and also how non-reactions might be interpreted. Yes, it might be hard to read that someone has been promoted, but why is it worse to read it on Twitter than in an institutional newsletter? Or how is a dishonest “like” worse than a dishonest in-person congratulation?

The authors are very clear that they don’t claim reliability, validity, or replicability. And while I don’t recognise myself in all of their scenarios and don’t agree with all of their conclusions, I really like the method of putting out a fictional scenario and discussing it in this way!

In the article I read next, Koutropoulos et al. (2024) explore the “lines of flight: the digital fragmenting of educational networks” using another super interesting method, the “zigzag”, where people write and respond and thus create a shared understanding of their experiences (and I love how they use strikethroughs in the published article to show development over time). They discuss analogies for people leaving social media networks (migrants that permanently move away, nomads that follow seasonal routes or use different networks for different purposes), identity formation online (in contrast to the article above, this is an ongoing process: “an open space for ideas and a way to encourage an ever-evolving digital identity, rather than users picking an a priori decided identity” — this is a view that I identify a lot more with!). One interesting point they make about online identity that I haven’t really considered in that way is what languages we choose to use. Of course that is an important decision that will determine which audiences we can and cannot reach, but it is also a choice of how we want to present ourselves, and that I have never really considered before (although we have been doing our social media posts for my freediving club Active Divers in both Swedish and English for a while now, and not just because that means that they are accessible for all members, but also because it is an expression of our identity as a club where training does happen in different languages, occasionally including sign language). Lastly, the authors explore “human connections in a digital world”: They again describe social media in a way that resonates with me very much, as “the opportunity to experiment and play”, and a place where you can “nest” and find a “home”, where you find and build community: “While we may have never met in person, we know one another. We’ve met.” But then what happens if a platform just stops to exist, or someone just stops using it? When they get “enshittified”? (New favourite word, btw!) The authors end by stating that “the solution is to take charge of our own data, and to empower our learners to take control of theirs”, and to collectively create the spaces we want to be in. Am I glad I read this article, both in contrast to the one summarized above, and for such a positive view in general!

Now, encouraged by that last article, I will summarize a third one from the same special edition: Ulla et al. (2024) on “Unveiling the TikTok Teacher: The Construction of Teacher Identity in the Digital Spotlight”. I have no personal experience using tiktok, not even passively other than that some tiktok stuff gets cross-posted on Facebook. But I am curious!

They find different facets of identities that teachers show on tiktok for different purposes, for example one about the authentic self-expression of being “young, wild, and free”, one about connecting with students outside of the classroom, one about adapting to trends and thus bridging generational gaps, or using it as a space for learning and self-improvement. Creating that persona on tiktok lets them develop their identity accordingly, which feeds back into their classroom relationships and practices. Totally buy that that is the case!

And also now really miss Twitter as a space where I can build my online identity, which aligns and feeds back into my real identity, and which then influences what I do and with whom. I should really go explore all the other networks that people are now using instead of Twitter! Where are you these days? Need to find and build my community again!

Featured image: This morning’s swim in Voss, because otherwise if Twitter wasn’t dead, I would have shared it there (and now I only shared it on Instagram and Facebook, and on my blog ;-))

Koutropoulos, A., Stewart, B., Singh, L., Sinfield, S., Burns, T., Abegglen, S., … & Bozkurt, A. (2024). Lines of flight: the digital fragmenting of educational networks. Journal of Interactive Media in Education2024(1).

Mahon, Á., & Bergin, S. (2024). ‘Sharing’, Selfhood, and Community in an Age of Academic Twitter. Journal of Interactive Media in Education2024(1), 10.

Ulla, M. B., Lemana II, H. E., & Kohnke, L. (2024). Unveiling the TikTok Teacher: The Construction of Teacher Identity in the Digital Spotlight. Journal of Interactive Media in Education2024(1), 12.

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