A couple of weeks ago I was reproached on Facebook for overenthuiastic tweeting and my apparent affinity for hashtagging. Here’s a sampling of their criticisms:

“what’s with all these GD pound signs?”

“‎#annoying”

“#hatethatyoureahashtaggernow”

     In their defense, I hadn’t quite figured out how to selective tweet and so was probably spamming their feed, which coincidentally looks a lot like a Twitter feed. Regardless, I felt rebuked by my peers and I have to admit, it stung a little bit.

     Full disclosure: I hated the very thought of “tweeting” at first. I was under the impression that tweets were basically glorified “Away Messages”–remember those?– or a medium for people to spit out attention-grabbing, sometimes clever, sometimes funny one-liners. And in reality, a lot of Twitter IS just that. However, coinciding with the launch of my blog, I decided to join Twitter under the strong advice of a very capable, scientific blogger (@Katie_PhD) as a means to advertise and network. I don’t regret following her input and here are the reasons why I think Twitter can help science:

Staying informed

     Twitter has been my stock ticker of science news, constantly updating with stories and commentary. I haven’t felt this up-to-date on popular science, policy and outreach in years…maybe ever. I’d go as far to say that in many ways Twitter (and also blogging) has rekindled this disenchanted, graduate student’s interest in all things science, which had long gone dormant. And yes, the news cycle is fast, but I don’t fear missing anything since most of the days science stories is retweeted.

My Wishlist: what’s trending amongst my followers/followees rather than globally.

Speed

     Information is disseminated and can be accessed quickly, which can be used to promote your research or exploited as a tool to mobilize people into action–think the Arab Spring, in which both Twitter and Facebook were instrumental. Of more relevance to this blog, it was used to rally opposition against the Research Works Act (#RWA). Furthermore, rapid movement of knowledge is inline with a trend toward more “open science.”

Exposure

     Unlike other social media, Twitter is decidedly public in nature. You have access to people outside of your normal circles or networks since strangers can follow your tweets. Think about it, when was the last time you friended a stranger on Facebook. Never. It doesn’t happen because it’s weird. Twitter allows you to interact with strangers without it feeling, for the most part, creepy. I am, therefore, able to get my blog out to a larger audience faster. And for those concerned about privacy, the simple interface means that profiles are very limited. The only thing that’s public, really, is what you tweet.

Personality

      For many comedians, the Twitter format is a godsend. It allows their personalities to shine through in 140 characters or less (read: one-liners). And it’s an art, which I think @michaelianblack absolutely kills. Now, I know this is hard to believe, but lo and behold, there are funny scientists. And witty ones. And interesting ones. And some of them are on Twitter. What’s great about Twitter is that it lends itself to the re-branding and re-headlining of science news (and all news really) through wit, sarcasm, insight and commentary. This is all value-added, and can make the difference between whether someone reads an article or not. Random example from my feed:

This was a quote from an article written by Ed Yong (@edyong209) about male spiders that detach their penis* after sex to avoid getting eaten by the female (Spiders dodge cannibalism through remote copulation, the article appears in Nature, thus the more straightforward headline).

Another random example:

(‘Little Horny Man’: Rock Carving of Giant Phallus Discovered)

     Ultimately, Twitter can help make science more accessible to the public. One of my goals in starting this blog was to increase science accessibility to the public and bridge the divide between the public and science. I think an effective way of doing this is through humor and personality. And in a larger context, the issue of personality is important because where before scientists have been pigeonholed into the role of the dull and charmless nerd, there is now pushback. For evidence, check out these projects: This is What a Scientist Looks Like and I am Science.

I hope this stops the #hate.

Also, I hope this convinces more Drosophila researchers to join Twitter, otherwise I’ll be the only one live tweeting the Drosophila Research Conference (#DROS2012)

Related Reading:

Social Media for Scientists Part 1: It’s Our Job

Twitter for Scientists (Reason #3, in particular)

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8 thoughts on “#hashtag backlash: In defense of Twitter.

  1. Mr Epidemiology,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m going to try to convert some people at the Drosophila Research Conference this week in Chicago. I’ll be directing them to your reason #3.

  2. I used to stream my tweets to my Facebook profile, but I’m not sure it’s the best content strategy simply for the reason that Twitter and Facebook are different kinds of media. I’ve turned all tweets off from my appearing in my newsfeed; when I’m on Facebook, I find them irritating since they are not presented visually as well as Twitter puts them on the your Twitter Timeline and they don’t suit the newsfeed (IMO). I’m not sure whether this is a majority view, but I think each of the major social networks is so unique that cross-posting of text or link-based content does encourage engagement of amplification of message. Photo or video-based posts are different, since their greater appeal (visual beats out linguistic for draw) has more strength for pulling people to an external site. People can get text/link-based info dumps anywhere on the web, so I think it’s best to tailor each post to the network at hand since it implies you are both:

    – catering to your audience (concerned with their ease-of-consumption as opposed to your ease-of-production)

    and

    – likely to reciprocate their investments of attention (since using a secondary network implies you have divided your attention investments)

    I realize that cross-posting content on multiple networks is a good time-saver for anyone with over-diluted attention. I do it myself between Google+ and Facebook, since their formats for content entry and output are very similar, but with the new Facebook Timeline, it feels as if the content that belongs on these two networks is very different. I think Twitter is the most different of these ‘big three’ since brevity and unexpanded (tweet-embedded) links, when used on Facebook or Google+, imply very different things than when used on Twitter.

    This is something I’ve thought about mostly from the perspective of trying to convert others; I noticed my interactions on non-tweet posts, during the period of time when I was broadcasting links, received substantially less engagement and very rarely did any of my tweets solicit engagement. Also, I had a number of friends tell me that the tweets were annoying.

    You’ve sparked my interest in knowing what people think about tweets in the Facebook newsfeed. Time to pose a Facebook Question!

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