There’s been a lot of anxiety in Academic Twitter over the last few days about Elon Musk’s purchase of the platform and what this means for our use of it. It’s important to recognise that changes will take months to happen so this isn’t an immediate crisis but it’s likely that things will change for the worse, ranging from a best case scenario of some of the improvements of recent years being unpicked through to a worst case scenario of an unendurable cess pool of trolling. I suspect this reaction reflects pre-existing anxieties about Twitter and in this sense Musk’s unexpected purchase could be a welcome invitation for us to rethink how we relate to Twitter.
I feel this intensely as someone who deleted my Twitter account a few years ago, despite it being one of the most popular in my discipline. I eventually rejoined last year having started my first lectureship because I felt missing out on the opportunities Twitter undoubtedly offers would have be doing significant damage to my future career. Since then I’ve had an even more ambivalent relationship to the platform because I often find it useful and enjoyable but I also resent the fact I’ve now got a bundle of intellectual habits which is basically little more than a glorified vector of capital accumulation. For these reason I don’t want to leave Twitter but I am more aware than ever of how much I don’t particularly want to be there. Here are some tips if you feel the same way I do:
- Be clear about exactly what you’re using Twitter for. In my case it’s announcing publications, advertising events, keeping up with a few topics and having a place to occasionally throw out fringe thoughts to see what others make of them. Keeping these intentions in mind can help you avoid getting drawn into using the platform more widely than you want to.
- Identify when you enjoy using Twitter during the day and week. Are there patterns in when you enjoy the platform and when it feels like a draining ordeal you’d rather avoid? Are there differences in when it tends to be a harmful distraction and when you can quickly dip in for a specific purposes?
- If you’re using Twitter at least in part to engage with non-academics then look for alternative ways you could do this. Do you write guest blogs? If so could you write them more frequently? If not could you find blogs you might want to write for? Could you start an informal podcast or join one within your field? Have you tried using LinkedIn for narrowly professional discussion?
- Use an app like Freedom to control when social media is accessible across your devices. It allows you to set a schedule in which social media sites are only accessible during specific times and on specific days. This allows you to define how long you’re willing to spend on Twitter then ensure you stick to it.
- It’s possible to e-mail Freedom to ask them to remove a block. It’s a little embarrassing to do this frequently but it still means this is a soft restriction on your access. However I’ve discovered recently they’re willing to turn off this feature (after some negotiation) and this means your schedule is absolutely set in stone i.e. you can’t get back onto social media until your chosen time has come.
- Consider using scheduling software like Buffer in order to put your Tweets out with a pre-defined schedule. This means you can use the platform without having to log into it. This has often felt a bit odd on a personal rather than project account but I might start doing this at least some of the time.
- Take a social media sabbatical when Twitter pisses you off so much that you don’t want to use it anymore. Doing this in an intentional way helps you enjoy the experience and use it to recharge, rather than just passively avoiding it for a few days before slipping back in because the persuasive design gets you.
- Identify who your audiences are on the platform. Who do you want to talk to? Once you’ve found these groups and identified a few hundred interesting people within them then seriously consider not following anyone else. Twitter can be a much more manageable place if you reduce the number of people you follow, follow people intentionally and resist the idea you should be accumulating followers through strategic conduct.
- Use Tweet Delete to periodically delete all your tweets. The sense of impermanence this creates can be quite freeing (though don’t overestimate its protective potential) and it can be used either on an automated schedule or used occasionally to throw all your tweets in the bin.
- Ensure you’re using Twitter efficiently as a knowledge seeking device. Be clear about what you’re looking for, how you’ll find it and how much you want. It’s tempting to intellectually forage endlessly on Twitter because there are so many interesting people sharing so much interesting stuff. It can be an emotional relief to gorge on interestingness given how soul crushing the accelerated academy can be at times. But it can also be a huge drain on your time and energy.
- Using Twitter efficiently as a knowledge seeking device means avoiding the temptation to be an intellectual hoarder. The means resisting the guilty awareness of how many things there are you should read, events you should attend and conversations you should involve yourself in. It’s important to let things pass by in the stream rather than feeling you have to catalogue and act on them. We need a scholarship of abundance rather than a scholarship of scarcity.
- If it’s really bothering you then consider temporarily deleting your account. This means you vanish from Twitter but can reclaim your account if you log back in within a certain period of time. It helps avoid the nagging sense that you’re missing out on the people who are contacting you, as well as giving further distance from the platform.
- If you temporarily delete your account try and be mindful of the changes it brings in your professional experience. Do you feel more relaxed? Do you feel less overwhelmed? Take these feeling seriously and consider whether you might want to delete your account permanently. My account deletion in 2019 was initially temporary but after a few weeks of feeling newly intellectually refreshed and just thought “fuck this” and let Twitter discard @mark_carrigan forever.
- Pushing universities through the formal and informal means available to us to address the spiralling EDI issues involved in using social media for public engagement. I’ve got a longer piece about this which should be out this summer. I talked about this at length in a podcast here. I’m deeply uncomfortable with the idea of centring individual measures (e.g. blocklists, muting, filtering) given that white, middle class men such as myself simply don’t experience this as a necessity. It’s urgent that we get this issue onto the agenda of senior management who barely recognise this as an issue, instead perceiving Twitter as a blackbox for generating public engagement.