Why I Don’t Do Digital Chain Reactions

digital chainI only know one person, now, who shares Facebook posts saying things like ‘share this post and your dearest wish will come true by midnight’. I haven’t seen a really horrible digital chain reaction (“share this or one of your friends will DIE”) for a long time. Most digital chains seem to have morphed into forms of niceness, particularly among women, at least in my corner of the cybersphere. But I still don’t pass them on.

There are several reasons for this. First, there is already way too much noise on social media. It’s very rare that I will even share a petition I sign, though those signatures are sometimes prompted by others’ shares. More often they’re prompted by emails direct from organisations such as 38 Degrees and SumOfUs. I’m happy to receive those emails because I support the work of those organisations. I’m also happy to sign most of the petitions. I get increasingly fed up with the resulting shouty webpages NOW SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA TO TRIPLE YOUR IMPACT (no) THEN GIVE US SOME MONEY INSTEAD YOU TIGHT GIT (also no). (I don’t think the wording of the latter is entirely accurate, but that’s how it comes across to me, particularly as I’m already a monthly donor by direct debit.)

We all get too many emails. I got one recently asking me to send one of my favourite poems to the woman at the top of the list, add my name to the bottom, forward it on and in a few days I should receive a bunch of lovely poems to read. Wouldn’t that be nice?

No. No, it wouldn’t.

I love reading poetry; I read at least one poem most days. I support poets by buying and reviewing their books, particularly those by contemporary women, often women of colour. I don’t want to read a random selection of poems that other people like because the odds are I won’t like most of those poems. I may not even be able to read them all depending on the language of a sender’s favourite poem. (There seemed to be a tacit assumption in the email that everyone would send poems in English, which seemed a bit odd; I don’t think it would necessarily be the case.) And what about intellectual property? Do we have the right to share whole poems by email if they’re still in copyright?

I already get far too many emails from people I don’t know. I don’t want more, even if they include poems.

Then there’s Twitter. Last week a Twitter chain broke out saying ‘Amplifying the voices of at least 10 women who are amazing in so many ways… and keep it going.’ Then a list of 10 twitter handles of women. No doubt all of those women are amazing in many ways, but I do not understand how listing people on Twitter amplifies their voices.

If I want to amplify the voice of an amazing woman, I will listen to or read her first, then do what I can to amplify her voice: pass on her wisdom to others and tell them where it came from, share her work online and explain why I’m doing so, review her books, go to her exhibitions or gigs or other events whenever I can, review those too, and so on. Here’s a recent example:

There is something quite knee-jerk and thoughtless about the list approach which was exemplified by one tweeter this week including the name of a woman I knew from several projects and conferences and many online chats, and respected and liked very much, who died in March 2019. She was an enthusiastic adopter and user of social media and, although I’ll never know for sure, I suspect she would have shared my misgivings on this topic.

Also the ‘amplifying the voices’ tweets are quite honestly, like most lists, boring to read. They remind me of the late unlamented Follow Friday. I would rather work to create interesting content for my followers, or just chat with people about whatever is on our minds.

On any platform these chains are a gift for hackers, spammers and bots. Also they are unsustainable. Like pyramid selling, their growth is exponential so they can’t go on indefinitely. If everyone joins in they will work for a while, which probably helps to explain their enduring appeal through the principle of partial reinforcement (variable-ratio for the psych majors out there – it’s what keeps people gambling even though they mostly lose). But not everyone will join in. Like me, for example. I used to, with the nice ones, but I found they didn’t lead anywhere. So now I don’t.

The weird thing is, I still feel a bit churlish. Like a grumpy old party-pooping woman. Even though I have lots of coherent reasons for not doing digital chain reactions. Maybe it’s because of the niceness overlay. Share petitions on issues you care about! Send people poems! Amplify voices! How can you refuse?

Increasingly, I find I can. Join me? We have nothing to lose but our chains.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $52 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $52 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

How To Host A Successful Chat On Twitter

twitterThis week’s blog post isn’t here, it’s over on the Research Whisperer blog – the link will take you there. I explain how to host a successful chat on Twitter. This post contains a couple of supplementary points.

First, I’m grateful to Tom Worthington who commented over at the Research Whisperer to ask why you might want to hold a Twitter chat – I should have thought to include that! He suggested two possible reasons:

  • To collect data for research
  • To promote the results of research already conducted

I added some others:

  • To raise your profile
  • To find international collaborators
  • To raise awareness of an issue
  • To increase the number of your Twitter followers
  • To find out about the latest thinking on a topic
  • To support activism

Kay Guccione tweeted to suggest this further point:

  • To shape work planning/prioritisation eg Tweet chats around popular post-PhD career aspirations

No doubt there are others too; if you have any to add, please contribute them in the comments there or here. And of course a Twitter chat may serve more than one issue.

Second, something else I found out this very day is that it’s really important to use initial capitals in Twitter hashtags because it makes them more accessible for people with visual impairments. So we need to take the time to write #CRMethods and #CRMethodsChat rather than #crmethods and #crmethodschat. I will be reminding people of this in every chat I host from now on.

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $34 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $34 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

 

Dissemination, Social Media, and Ethics

twitterstormI inadvertently caused a minor Twitterstorm last week, and am considering what I can learn from this.

I spotted a tweet from @exerciseworks reporting some research. It said “One in 12 deaths could be prevented with 30 minutes of exercise five times a week” (originally tweeted by @exerciseworks on 22 Sept, retweeted on the morning of 10 October). The tweet also included this link but I didn’t click through, I just responded directly to the content of the tweet.

Here’s their tweet and my reply:

 

The @exerciseworks account replied saying it wasn’t their headline. This was true; the article is in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) which should know better. And so should I: in retrospect, I should have checked the link, and overtly aimed my comment at the BMJ as well.

Then @exerciseworks blocked me on Twitter. Perhaps they felt I might damage their brand, or they just didn’t like the cut of my jib. It is of course their right to choose who to engage with on Twitter, though I’m a little disappointed that they weren’t up for debate.

I was surprised how many people picked up the tweet and retweeted it, sometimes with comment, such as this:

Rajat Chauhan tweet

and this:

Alan J Taylor tweet

which was ‘liked’ by the BMJ itself – presumably they are up for debate; I would certainly hope so. (It also led me to check out @AdamMeakins, a straight-talking sports physiotherapist who I was pleased to be bracketed with.)

Talking to people about this, the most common reaction was to describe @exerciseworks as a snowflake or similar, and say they should get over themselves. This is arguable, of course, though I think it is important to remember that we never know what – sometimes we don’t know who – is behind a Twitter account. Even with individual accounts where people disclose personal information, we should not assume that the struggles someone discloses are all the struggles they face. And with corporate or other collective accounts, we should remember that there is an individual person reading and responding to tweets, and that person has their own feelings and struggles.

Twitter is a fast-moving environment and it’s easy to make a point swiftly then move on. Being blocked has made me pause for thought, particularly as @exerciseworks is an account I’ve been following and interacting with for some time.

I stand by the point I made. It riles me when statistical research findings are reported as evidence that death is preventable. Yes, of course lives can be saved, and so death avoided at that particular time. Also, sensible life choices such as taking exercise are likely to help postpone death. But prevent death? No chance. To suggest that is inaccurate and therefore unethical. However, forgetting that there is an actual person behind each Twitter account is also unethical, so I’m going to try to take a little more time and care in future.

Social Media: Is It Just A Numbers Game?

jumbled numbersGoodness me, such a busy week, I almost forgot to blog. This time of year is often very pressured for independents and non-academics with 31 March being a crucial end-of-financial-year deadline by which many projects must be finished and invoices paid. So much so that I haven’t been around on social media anywhere near as much as usual.

Nevertheless, in the last couple of weeks, I have passed the 3,000 follower mark on Twitter, hit 200 followers on Instagram, and reached the magic 500+ on LinkedIn. Ding!

I’ve been on Twitter since 2009 and Instagram since 2014, so these figures aren’t particularly impressive. Publishers, for example, don’t start taking notice till you reach 10,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram. Part of the reason is I’ve never tried to attract followers, other than by being around and talking to people, and following those I feel a connection with. Others take very different approaches. I know a fiction writer on Instagram, someone I’ve met IRL a couple of times, who reached 10,000 followers in less than a year and is now coaching other writers on how to attract followers like honeysuckle attracts bees. She wrote a blog post with a few pointers, such as: choose, and stick to, a colour palette, so that when someone looks at your Instagram profile and sees your last nine photos, they give a coherent message. There were other tips, like how to schedule posts for maximum impact, all of which seemed entirely feasible to implement.

So, I thought, I could do that.

I’d probably sell more books that way.

But.

I can’t do that.

I simply can’t bring myself to be so contrived. It’s not me at all. The thought of choosing a colour palette, and scheduling my posts for maximum impact, makes me feel queasy.

One of the things I love about social media is the randomness. Yesterday I mislaid my landline handset, wailed on Twitter, and a woman from Brisbane told me how to find it. On Instagram I seek out interesting academics and I talk to a Romanian woman studying for a PhD in Japan, a Dutch academic in America, an Australian academic in America, and so on. The glimpses of their lives are fascinating to me; I hope mine are to them.

I should take the ‘colour palette’ approach; it’s sensible marketing. I should create and nurture a brand for myself. To an extent, this blog has a colour palette. The designer friend who made it for me asked what my favourite colours were; I told her; she liked and used those colours. But I don’t pick photos in those colours for my blog posts (though I did for this post, because I came across one on freeimages.com and it amused me), and I certainly can’t Instagram everything in purple, turquoise, and hot pink. It would be exhausting even to try.

I was musing about all this to a friend who is quite the social media expert.

“I just like, y’know, hanging out with people online,” I said. “I don’t want to do this ‘brand’ thing. I want the weird, the random, the serendipitous. I like making friends.”

“That,” he said, “that IS your brand.”

I guess he’s right. It’s not much of a brand, though, in marketing terms. It’s just me, bimbling around online like I do offline, forgetting things sometimes, doing my best. I could change; I could do this whole thing differently. Maybe, sometime in the future, I will. But, for now… I don’t want to put myself under the pressure of trying to present myself as something I’m not, something polished and shiny. It would be too much like having a proper job. So I shall carry on dropping in and out of social media as I please, chatting when I have something to say, and otherwise lurking or taking time out. That makes me happy. And while my approach may not sell as many books as the ‘colour palette’ system, it has made me some great friends and taken me all around the world. So, in my terms, it works just fine.

Twitter Can Make Your Dreams Come True

I’m at the end of a working week in Melbourne, sitting in my hotel room; all I have to do is write this blog post and pack. It’s been a great week. One keynote, three workshops and six meetings. Miles and miles of pavement-pounding, including four bookshops (only one book bought due to luggage weight restrictions; several others noted) and the best pistachio gelato I ever ate. Free trams! Melbourne has free trams in the city centre! I didn’t figure out how to use them till day four of six, but my feet have been grateful to me since. And lots of lovely drinks and snacks and dinners. Melbourne likes its grub, and so do I.

The best part about this week, though, is the people I have met. People I’ve only known on Twitter up to now. Not all of them from Melbourne, either: Naomi Barnes (@DrNomyn) from Brisbane and Deborah Netolicky (@debsnet) from Perth were both in town for the Australian Association for Research in Education conference, and it was great to hang out with them. They have both, since, written considered and scholarly blog posts: Deb wrote about the conference, and commented that one thing she loves about Twitter is that it helps her feel as though she knows people, even if they’ve never met in person. Naomi reflected on whether Twitter really creates or enables communities.

I came to Melbourne this week entirely as a result of Twitter. The photo at the top of this blog post was harvested from Twitter. I’ve been doing work generated through Twitter, and people have been tweeting that work out into the Twittersphere. Twitter supports my work in a lot of different ways. This week I have met and talked with eight people who I only knew online up to now. With each of them we went straight into real conversation: when you already know someone online, you can dispense with all the ‘how was your journey?’ and ‘did you find us OK?’ type small talk. This means that when you only have a couple of hours with someone, that time is much more useful. So I get where Deb is coming from with her comment.

Naomi makes a distinction between communities and, as sub-sets of communities, tribes. This is pretty much how I experience Twitter. There is a community of researchers that flocks around hashtags such as #ecrchat (early career researchers chat), #phdchat (PhD chat) and #acwri (academic writing). And there are smaller tribes. I have felt for some time that there’s a little Australian tribe that I belong to, made up of ten or a dozen people. Twitter tribes aren’t necessarily co-located, and indeed my Australian Twitter tribe is scattered around Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra. But the biggest concentration is in Melbourne, and the others either have spent time in Melbourne or visit the city fairly regularly. So this feels like the geographical heart of the tribe. Also, not everyone in my Australian Twitter tribe knows everyone else. I was able to introduce Naomi and Deb to another tribe member. And there’s one tribe member who, despite being at one of the universities where I taught this week, doesn’t know any of the others. And to be fair, I first got to know her through her work, rather than through Twitter; our Twitter contact came later. But that doesn’t matter; she’s still part of my tribe.

Meeting these people in person has, without exception, been an absolute delight. They have introduced me to wonderful bars and restaurants. We have talked non-stop, planned projects, generated ideas, and laughed immoderately. I have wanted to meet them for years but thought it could never happen. It has, quite literally, been a dream come true.