Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Is There Any Reason Not To Be on Twitter? (Jr. Law Prawfs FAQ)
As the framing of the FAQ from Monday and today suggests, I'm somewhat agnostic when it comes to whether law professors should blog. But not when it comes to law professors on Twitter.
First, though, a few follow-up thoughts on blogging: As Will Baude noted in the comments, "the advisability blogging, even more than most of aspects of this series, is going to turn heavily on personal tastes and abilities. Blogging is certainly not *so* important as to be worth a person's spending time on it even if they find it unpleasant and time-consuming." I think that's right, though my attempt at categorizing the types of blogging to include field-specific blogging, practitioner-oriented blogging, and beyond blogging was aimed at suggesting that the pain of law blogging may be even more worth it if your goal is for your scholarship and ideas to reach policymakers, practitioners, and the public more generally. In those circumstances, Orin Kerr's observation may no longer be the case that "blogging is still an extracurricular activity instead of something that is part of the core mission of legal academics." For example, I'm guessing that's not the case for Doug Berman, Paul Caron, Noah Feldman, Rick Hasen, or Steven Davidoff Solomon, or perhaps even for Stephen Bainbridge or Josh Blackman.
With respect to Twitter, however, I'd reframe the FAQ I often get as whether there is any reason for a law professor not to be on Twitter.
I'm a big fan of Twitter for law professors, as my leading question suggests. At the start of my second year at the law school, I decided to experiment with Twitter as a professional resource and social media tool, and I haven't looked back. A few benefits come immediately to mind.
First, a lot of academics are on Twitter, so from an information-gathering perspective you can find out about developments and new scholarship in your field much more quickly. Because you choose who you follow, you can structure your Twitter timeline (or create lists if your timeline consists of a lot of different fields, etc.) to track in real time what's going on in your field.
Second, a lot of academics -- in addition to other experts and media in most law and policy fields -- are on Twitter, so from an information-sharing perspective you can add your voice to the conversation on a particular issue and get your scholarship and ideas out there more quickly. For instance, I've fielded a lot of media inquiries based on my tweets about current cases or regulatory developments (more on media consulting on Friday), and my blog posts and draft articles get a lot more eyes on them by circulating them on Twitter (not so much on Facebook or LinkedIn).
Third, conversations about your scholarship, blog posts, and ideas are likely already happening on Twitter. And because you're not on it, the likelihood that others will find your more extensive commentary on the issue -- or explore your other scholarship and ideas -- is diminished. So much of information-sharing is driven by social media these days that I'm puzzled, for instance, why a number of law bloggers aren't even on Twitter. These seem like missed opportunities to join the conversation around an idea, blog post, or article that you've already written, or to add your scholarship to the discussion.
Fourth, especially in comparison to blogging, Twitter requires very little effort. It's not the case that you only get out of it what you put into it. You get a lot out of the very little effort of setting up the account. Just create an account, let Twitter search your contacts for potential accounts to follow, follow those accounts in your field, and then tweet out stuff when you feel like it -- once a day, once a week, or whatever. Having a Twitter presence, without too much more, helps reap the benefits discussed above. Of course, some scholars put a lot more effort into Twitter than that, and I'd be curious if they feel the benefits are commensurate to the costs. Plus, Twitter, like all social media, can be quite addictive and could distract from scholarship if one does not exercise self-control. On the other hand, Twitter can also be a nice reprieve from waiting in line at the DMV, sitting in the audience at an event you have to attend (you can always live-tweet conferences, etc., to keep you more engaged too), or filling some other dead time in the day.
Finally, some remark that they are already on Facebook and/or LinkedIn (or Instagram or Snapchat (!?)), so they do not want to take on another social media platform. In my experience, however, the benefits listed above are much better on Twitter than Facebook or LinkedIn. I'd be curious what others have experienced with the various social media platforms. As for tips for navigating twitter, there are lots of how-to guides out there. Plus, over at the Faculty Lounge in February we brainstormed some tips for law reviews on Twitter, and many of those tips apply to law professors as well.
So what say you PrawfsBlawg community? Is Twitter great or the greatest?
Twitter as a place to share links? -- sure, why not? But Twitter as a venue for what you euphemistically refer to as "conversations about . . . scholarship, blog posts, and ideas"? Afraid not. It only encourages sound bites and verbal sparring, not serious conversation. I've never learned anything substantive by reading Twitter, and I'd be surprised if any legal academic has ever persuaded anyone of anything on that medium. (Case in point: This comment is more than four times longer than Twitter allows, and I think you'll agree that I haven't said very much of value.) It also encourages snark and other unseemly practices that academics, and other humans, should avoid. Oh, and another thing: They're called "tweets," which ought to be reason enough to dissuade you. Tweeting has its places -- see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcmvwFcfWmY -- but legal discourse isn't one of them. ;-)
Posted by: Marty Lederman | Apr 20, 2016 12:12:41 PM
Links and quick reactions (including as things happen) via Twitter can have some value here. The first is probably the easiest -- one professor who blogs, e.g., uses Twitter mainly to post links to new posts and essays on his blog etc. Twitter can also be used to post videos of conferences and weblogs etc.
The second has some value too. You also can get some reactions if anyone reads your remarks. The substantive value given the space restraints is limited, of course, but some who tweet use multiple tweets to express their opinion. Also, there are ways to link to longer messages or provide images with text.
Chris Geidner is not a professor, but has repeatedly provided a lot of substantive legal views via Twitter (along with playful stuff that the medium invites). I gather law professors can have something similar.
Posted by: Joe | Apr 20, 2016 12:29:59 PM
I have mixed feelings about Twitter, but unlike Marty, I have frequently learned substantive things by reading Twitter. The most easily referenced (but not the only) example being the conversation about standing reposted here: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2015/05/talking-about-standing-in-zivotofsky-and-spokeo.html
But then again, the difference may be that Marty probably knows a lot more substantive things than I do. (Speaking of which, I *also* learned a lot from Marty's participation in the comments of that Prawfs thread....)
Posted by: William Baude | Apr 20, 2016 2:18:21 PM
I agree with a lot of what Marty says that Twitter may not be a place to have in-depth conversations and that tweets alone don't persuade people to change their mind on issues. (Although I do find some Twitter interaction quite fun as Will notes in his comment, I also agree that it can spiral into snark and other unseemly practices.)
But I think that's really missing the point of Twitter's primary role for law professors, which Joe hits on: quick reactions, links to longer explanations in blog posts/articles, etc. It's about information- and -idea sharing. And I love the 140-character limit because it allows me to digest a lot more headlines and click for more on topics that most interest me.
Also, as Chris Geidner just mentioned on Twitter (and as Joe references), the use of threads (replying to your first tweet with another but removing your Twitter handle) allows one to have a more extended argument. For fun, I just took Marty's case in point and put it on Twitter as a thread: https://twitter.com/chris_j_walker/status/722852830256627712 :)
Now, Marty and Rick (via his comments on Twitter) rightly point out that there are good and bad uses of Twitter -- and there are perhaps perception dangers pretenure of overuse and distraction risks from teaching, research, and service. But I'm not sure those are arguments against law professors being on Twitter, but how they should manage their Twitter use.
Posted by: Chris Walker | Apr 20, 2016 2:28:54 PM
This won't surprise anyone but I think Chris is right. Twitter can obviously be a diversion and at times mind numbing but I think it does allow for clarification of ideas, kinship, knowledge about events, papers, etc., and allows folks to engage with other folks they normally would not get to engage with. And, for folks at less elite places, or with less elite reputations, I think it can help get one's name associated with a legal issue in ways that the media at large and even second and third year law students will recognize. Of course it can be abused but....so can all social media.
Posted by: eric segall | Apr 20, 2016 2:43:33 PM
I personally find Twitter useful. It's a great source for legal news. And a lot of people in my academic space are on Twitter, especially outside the academy, so it's a significant way to be part of those conversations. With that said, Twitter isn't for everyone. There's the time it takes to learn Twitter. It's not a lot of time, but some. There's the fact that so few people click on links on Twitter; you're sharing content, but probably not leading a lot of people to it. And finally, Twitter is much more useful for those whose work makes the latest news important than it is for others.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 20, 2016 2:50:33 PM
Some interesting data from Michael Risch, over here:http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2015/01/how-law-professors-use-twitter.html
Also, the most recent Twitter census (now out of date, to be sure): http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2015/01/census-of-law-professor-twitter-users-version-30.html
Posted by: Bridget Crawford | Apr 20, 2016 3:58:26 PM
One more thought. Although Marty is right that Twitter's 140 character limit makes it hard to carry on detailed conversations, Twitter allows you to post a screenshot of text (or really, post any image) that counts as 25 characters out of the 140 max. So you can always write up a paragraph or two, take a screenshot of it, and tweet that as an image. The combination of quick comment, link, and screenshot is often a relatively effective way to communicate. Or at least it's better than it might at first seem in light of the 140 character limit.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 20, 2016 4:04:33 PM
For what it is worth, I'm halfway through an experiment. I decided last fall to try blogging for a year (at the Yale Journal on Regulation) and, in conjunction with that, to use Twitter. I've not yet made up my mind whether it is worthwhile.
I like Twitter for breaking news; I follow all of my favorite legal reporters and analysts (plus others who now have become favorites). I also like Twitter because one of my goals is to spread clerkship information to students who at aren't the top law schools, and Twitter (especially with retweets) is a good way to spread that information. On the other hand, aside from spreading clerkship news, I could get a lot of the benefit of Twitter by simply following others without affirmatively tweeting. So I'm still thinking about it. (The easiest tweets are the ones that simply link to blog posts; if blogging is a good idea, then tweeting posts certainly makes sense.)
As to blogging, I think it is probably more good than bad, though it takes a lot of time. At the end of the summer I'll pause and evaluate.
Posted by: Aaron L. Nielson | Apr 20, 2016 4:11:04 PM
I agree with Chris' thoughts. Twitter, in my limited experience (I signed up in 2016), is a good medium for posting about breaking news: decisions, oral arguments, etc. It is less well-suited for in-depth discussion (as Marty notes), but there are plenty of places where such a deep discussion of scholarship is taking place. The "cost" of tweeting is virtually zero while the potential "benefits" are real.
Posted by: Jonas Anderson | Apr 21, 2016 2:03:45 PM
Chris, I'm right there with you. I got on Twitter about three months into my teaching career (way back in 2009). I originally joined because I hated the link-sharing options on TWEN, and thought Twitter might be a better interface to share tax-related links with my students.
I still can't figure out if my students use Twitter (although one student--who never followed me--told me she'd seen some stuff I'd tweeted), but I quickly learned that it was both valuable professionally and fun. It's great as a headline aggregator, as long as you follow the journalists and news sources that are relevant to you. It's a great way to enter conversations, whether it be snarky ones during debates or serious ones. Sure, the 140-character limitation is a limitation, but it also makes you focus your thoughts and assertions. You can get around it, but part of the fun of the medium is to fit your thoughts within it.
And Twitter is fun. There's no reason that a law professor should only follow serious news and thought. It's great to get a mix of serious and comedians and musicians and friends, all jumbled together.
Maybe what I like best, though, is that it's an easy entree into public (and national) conversation. The tweet doesn't have to be the final word, but it certainly is a word. To the extent we want to engage policymakers and the public at large, Twitter is a really good way to do it. As others have said, it only takes a little while to get the hang of, it requires very little investment (and, in fact, it's pretty amenable to peaks and valleys--if you get busy and ignore Twitter for some time, you can get back in with little effort), and it has very little cost for very real benefits.
Posted by: Sam Brunson | Apr 22, 2016 1:41:50 AM
i agree with most of the points in the post/comments, especially @smbrnsn, @aaron_l_nielson, & @williambaude (great for generating media requests, interacting with other academics, finding/sharing breaking news/cases, learning substantive things) & would add a few more. i think the character cap is fantastic for forcing users to be concise, & when live-tweeting an event, i actually get more out of what i'm listening to when i commit to distilling it into tweetable pieces. as for eating into scholarship time, i think twitter is great for small chunks of time (10 minutes to kill before a meeting) while most of us need larger chunks for research & writing.
i also think twitter can be a really useful tool for sharing and finding out about scholarly work, as noted, & particularly with folks outside your field & outside law altogether--linguists, psychologists, business types, whoever might find your work appealing and vice-versa (@orinkerr's "in my academic space" but not always the academy). for my work, it's also particularly helpful to be in dialogue with practitioners. and i think the networking piece can be useful for parents of young children or other professors who can't make it to as many conferences as they'd like to for personal or funding reasons-- it can level the playing field in terms of reminding people you exist.
i have to close with a plug for our upcoming #seals panel on the future of legal scholarship, with @lawprofblawg, @capricelroberts, @profjuliehill, & me (@lexlanham), in which this topic will feature prominently! thanks to @chris_j_walker for this series of posts.
Posted by: alex roberts | Apr 25, 2016 1:35:11 PM
I am a twitter convert. For years, I observed others without tweeting. Then when I first tried to engage, it didn't stick. Now it's an indispensable part of my academic life. For newer scholars, thoughtful, well researched articles remain the main event. I am a fan of letting article ideas marinate more rather than less, which means work-shopping, waiting for, and incorporating critiques before submission season.
Like everything you write, blogging and twitter will become part of your public identity, so caution remains wise. Of course, the purpose of blogging and tweeting is distinct but, for many, online fora link scholarly worlds together. Twitter is a parallel device that not only informs scholarly ideas but creates community.
If used in designated intervals, it is the fastest way to educate others about key projects, promote cohorts, and learn about thought-provoking works, news, and events. The quick-witted sparring also provides timely relief from the rigors of our other projects. Like anything, moderation and thoughtful uses are key. Watch first. Then, emulate those who continue to master this craft as another important tool in promoting scholarly dialogue and sometimes sheer humorous exchanges for the sake of camaraderie. Those who love twitter learn from it and feel more connected with it.
Posted by: Caprice Roberts | Apr 25, 2016 4:18:09 PM