#AcademicTwitter Isn't Collapsing – At Least Not YetHistorians in the News
tags: social media, Twitter
Elon Musk took control of Twitter on Oct. 27, prompting many academics who tweet to ask whether the moment calls for choosing a different social media platform. The billionaire owner and self-described “free-speech absolutist” has, among other controversies, floated the idea of reversing the ban on former president Donald Trump. That has left many in academe concerned that toxic content and disinformation about social, medical and political issues could accelerate in the Twitterverse.
“Anything Twitter does which makes it a space where people are more likely to experience hate speech or threats of violence will erode its status as an essential gathering place” for higher ed, said Tanya Golash-Boza, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced, who has 15,800 followers. “I have long considered leaving Twitter—mostly because I go back and forth with regard to whether or not spending time on Twitter is fruitful or enjoyable.”
Few think that the 16-year-old Twitter will remain the same in the wake of recent changes. Many have already fled, and the platform’s political center of gravity has recently shifted right, according to an investigation by The Economist.
#AcademicTwitter community members are now weighing the nontrivial opportunity costs of leaving. They are also making plans in case an ongoing affiliation with the company feels intolerable. But few are fleeing the digital gathering space in which they have invested so much—at least not yet.
“Fewer scholars will opt for [verification] while a flood of new accounts will acquire it, weakening the overall value for everyone,” Kevin Kruse, professor of history and director of the Center for Collaborative History at Princeton University, wrote in an email. Kruse, who has a blue check, has 494,500 followers on the platform. “Twitter will become an uglier and less regulated space, which will surely drive many academics away.”
Kruse has not left Twitter but remains open to the possibility if, for example, the moderation system is weakened, once-banned accounts are allowed to come back or the targeted harassment of scholars increases.
Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African and African American studies at Duke University, is in this camp. Neal, who has 79,500 Twitter followers, appreciates the platform over others, including Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram, because it “really did value the sharing of ideas.”
“Twitter is where I’ve invested the most time and content,” Neal said. “That will not change in the immediate future, and few of the other platforms offered me the immediacy of community—academic #BlackTwitter—that Twitter does.”
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of Italian and history at New York University, who has 183,300 followers, also plans to continue tweeting. She views the platform as essential for transmitting research results that support civic education about democracy, propaganda and authoritarianism.
“Twitter has made me a more synthetic and effective communicator, has put me in touch with senators, CEOs, students, farmers and people all over the world who care about democracy, and has become a kind of adjunct to my classroom teaching,” Ben-Ghiat said. “I would never give all that up just because some far-right operative who backs [Russian president Vladimir] Putin and [Chinese president] Xi [Jinping] decides to buy Twitter. I would not have been chosen to advise the January 6 Committee—I was interviewed twice and submitted a report—if it were not for my presence on Twitter.”
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