In early September 2014, the study on Black Twitter that I had undertaken with a group of researchers at the University of Southern California was the subject of intense debate and scrutiny on social media. Topics of discussion included my initial exclusion from posted details about the study; the subject of the study; how the study was performed and who was involved; and if myself, the other researchers, and/or the university profited from the study.
From this experience, I gained three valuable insights about control over publicizing research on social media, the need for making scholarship accessible online, and the necessity of addressing public concerns about research practices and the marginalization of groups. First, while we as researchers within the academy often utilize social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to publicize and provide access to our research, universities also have vested interest in promoting our work online; doing so invites prospective applicants and faculty to more seriously consider an institution, and entice alumni and other interested parties to make monetary donations. Although we often have control over how we share our research within the spaces we curate, how, and when an academic institution choses to share our work may be outside our control—particularly for scholars at the graduate level.
Second, those of us within the academy need to make a concerted effort to utilize the digital platforms available to make our work accessible to the public. I do not simply mean by posting links to our research, since the jargon of our disciplines creates boundaries to accessibility. Instead, I suggest we get creative, and engage directly with individuals and groups who are often the subject of our research.
Finally, I learned that social media platforms could potentially be useful gaining insight into the pulse of public concerns about how research is conducted in the academy. The online discussion about the Black Twitter study and my exclusion generated important conversations about the marginalization of women of color in the academy, research ethics, privacy and data collection, and racism within institutions of higher education. As part or our individual projects as scholars, it would be useful for us to engage these issues—outside of the confines of our institutions—directly by drawing upon the multiple communication and media platforms at our fingertips.
All important insights
Dayna, as someone who is both incredibly excited to see this research project's findings, and as someone who followed the discussion around the project with great interest back in September, I think all the points you raise above are vital. Most important, perhaps, is your point about how moments like these might allow us to reflect at the institutional level, or open up conversations about the academy and its multiple functions (from promotional agent to framer of research ethics). I wholeheartedly agree that making these mechanisms, the role we and our institutions play in our scholarship, legible to groups we study is incredibly important, especially since these conversations don't often leave the echo chamber of academia but, as your experience suggests, echo well beyond the walls of the academy. I'm curious if (or how) your experience, and the response you received, has impacted the project or your approach to it, or if you have a primary takeaway for others considering similar data mining or scraping projects on (relatively) "open" platforms like Twitter.
Open access and accessibility
Dayna, I love the way you express the following: "[T]hose of us within the academy need to make a concerted effort to utilize the digital platforms available to make our work accessible to the public. I do not simply mean by posting links to our research, since the jargon of our disciplines creates boundaries to accessibility. Instead, I suggest we get creative, and engage directly with individuals and groups who are often the subject of our research." Thank you for your eloquence on this and other points. It makes me see that Open Access is so often an inadequate term, and perhaps concept. Linking to our online work does allow knowledge to be reached but doesn't always allow it to be truly *accessible*. We need to question what we have at stake in our jargon, always, so we don't use it when we don't have to. Open Source is a really good and extendable concept because it suggests, in addition, work or resources that are openly accessible in order to be openly (re-)usable. And your work is such an important example of that.
on Participatory Scholarship
Dayna: There are many great issues raised by your post, and I would like to jump in on the area that Catherine pointed out, which you raised about making our work “accessible” to communities that are part of our research. It seems that takes us, or at least me, back to that “existential crisis” that Catherine noted yesterday, which is, when we become more “open source” we cannot help but in turn become “practitioners,” which raises great anxiety at times given our training that places great value on hierarchical knowledge and individual discoveries. But once you start to question this structure, you have to ask those meta-questions about why you are researching “x” at all and your objectives. Dayna’s call for scholars to be more open and creative with our research and for more direct engagement with communities we study is inspiring. In turn, this notion can also extend to our larger academic culture and training, hence, we should develop collaborative and participatory scholarship not only outside, but also inside the academy.
Conversations about marginalisation
I am always interested in looking at representations and misrepresentations of marginalized groups. I am currently working on western representations of non-western communities and came across with an article on Facebook (not scholarly one) on how Asians were considered minorities in America. I agree with you 100% that we should get “creative, and engage directly with individuals and groups” not simply by posting links to research. The flexibility of social media platforms should encourage behaviors beyond posting links and clicking the “like” button. Clicking “like” does not concisely reflect public reactions. I agree with you that digital forums are useful in recognizing public concerns. Its important that scholars identify the right communities and collaborate with these targeted audience to facilitate an engaging and deep conversation on the topic of concern. This whole media representation of marginalised groups reminds me of the concept of “whatever” by Galloway: “Racial coding has not so much disappeared in recent years, but rather simply migrated into the realm of dress rehearsal, the realm of the ideal, the realm of pure simulation, and as simulation it remains absolutely necessary.” Great post, Dayna!
Who controls access?
Dayna - Your post raises something that is far too often excluded from the "Open Source Academia" debate, which is: in whose interest do academics utilize social media for their work? A discussion of the Institution and its real and symbolic "say" in the matter absolutely needs addressing and it's worth repeating here: "Although we often have control over how we share our research within the spaces we curate, how, and when an academic institution chooses to share our work may be outside our control—particularly for scholars at the graduate level." For this reason I think it's important for scholars working under the banner of a larger institution to reflect (on) this reality and for the public to hold both individual scholars and universities accountable for the motivations behind the kinds of "access" (or lack thereof) permitted at the public level. As Vicki states, this issue might be best addressed through "open access" WITHIN the university.
Dayna - I totally support this point: "Instead, I suggest we get creative, and engage directly with individuals and groups who are often the subject of our research." And I also want to call attention to what a bold statement it is. For scholars working in the academy, being creative and engaging with the groups we research is a pretty dramatic call to action. That's certainly not to say that academics aren't creative or don't want to reach out, but instead that they have been working in a system that has promoted work of a certain type for a very long time. One of the great things about this week on IMR is the opportunity to see the many ways in which these traditions are being challenged.
Seriousness versus Wideness?
Hi Dayna, What a nice post! I applaud the idea that social media platforms can be useful in conducting academic research. But I am also concerned about maintaining the seriousness of the academic studies. It seems to me that once work is digitalized, people care more about the format other than the contents. "Eyeball Economy", for example. reflects on the fact that people are, after all, superficial. How should we strike a nice balance between these two?
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