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.