In today’s world, social media has become a critical communication tool for academics. Different social media platforms are being used as teaching instruments and widening the reach of the research findings.
Funding agencies increasingly encourage academics to use social media to promote their research works for a more significant impact. The impacts of research are not only seen in terms of its academic impacts but also its economic and social impacts.
Social media provides another platform for academics to share their research findings, engage with peers, and stay up to date with the latest developments in their field.
Academics increasingly use professional networking sites to connect with other professionals in the field, build relationships, and find potential collaborators or funding opportunities. More and more academics are using social media to communicate with the public, share their work and its impact, and engage with a broader audience.
Public engagement does not need to wait till the research results are finalised; it can also happen during and before the research. Social media is also regularly used to supplement in-person teaching, provide students with resources, and create opportunities for students to engage with course content and each other.
Moreover, social media has become a way to showcase an academic’s expertise, build their brand, and increase their visibility in their field.
Indispensable tool for academics
Undoubtedly, social media has become an indispensable tool for academics in the modern age, providing numerous opportunities for research, networking, teaching, and personal growth. Though I have a good social media presence now, I was very cautious even a decade ago about the usability and importance of social media for an academic and was extremely reluctant to get a Twitter account.
Now, I give talks and interviews about the use and importance of social media for an academic. However, the benefits of using social media also have a cost side.
Social media can be a major time sink and distract academics from their core responsibilities, such as research and teaching.
It also blurs the lines between personal and professional life, leading to potential conflicts of interest and damaging an academic’s reputation. Several social media platforms are often a source of misinformation, and scholars need to be vigilant about fact-checking information before sharing it.
Social media is also being regularly used for cyberbullying and harassment, which can have a negative impact on an academic’s and his/her family’s mental and emotional well-being. Social media platforms often collect and use personal data, which can raise privacy concerns and put an academic’s personal information at risk.
Social media is a valuable tool for academics; however, it is important for them to weigh the benefits against the potential risks and use social media responsibly and professionally. Several academics are leaving social media to escape abuse and threats.
Academics as responsible citizens
Leaving the platform is easy, but academics are also responsible citizens and have civic and social responsibilities. Public outrage against scientists and experts has become a social phenomenon with the rise of right-wing populist politics worldwide.
If academics remove themselves from the public debate and discussion, the space will be completely taken over by rabid rabble-rousers, voodoo scientists, and fake historians. Challenging the commonly believed dogmas, biases, and myths is what the researchers are supposed to do; without that, there will be no progress in knowledge and society.
Criticism is not something that academics are not used to. Academia is a harsh and unforgiving territory, and scholars are often subjected to criticism from their peers, students, and reviewers. If any profession other than politicians is more trained and experienced to face criticism, it is academia.
The only difference in social media is that the criticism often comes from people whom researchers and professors do not consider knowledgeable enough to comment on their research and opinion.
However, it is essential to realise that social media has democratised academic debate and discussion, and academics need to get off their high horses to accept the new reality and contribute their part to society and its knowledge development.
Careful what you post
To engage in social media effectively and safely, scholars need to be careful what they post on social media. If they have a bigger social media presence, they need to be extra watchful about the words and images they post and which side of the debate they support. There will be some mistakes made on the way.
Still, it should not be a pattern as that can undermine the credibility of the engaged academic and their institution despite the usual disclaimer.
It is also essential that the researcher expresses an opinion on a subject in which they have expertise. That can help to build a strong profile, get a larger audience, and contribute meaningfully to the public debate on a particular field.
More than anything else, it is essential for the academic to have an interest and commitment to the larger public engagement to using the social media medium to its maximum. If academics don’t enjoy social media interactions and see it as another additional professional duty, they will not be successful in mastering this powerful medium.
For an academic to use social media effectively, it is important to understand the best practices and risks, the opportunities it offers, and to be fond of the medium.