Some Thoughts on Social Media and Academics: will all academics need to do it in the future?

It’s fitting, I think, that my first post on my the new site should be about the question of social media and academics. I was on a panel discussion organized by the School of Human Rights Research at the university of Utrecht on the issue today, along with Antoine Buyse from the prestigious ECHR Blog and Laura van Waas from the Statelessness Programme Blog of Tilburg University.

A number of issues were addressed, such as how to choose and use particular types of social media platforms (such as twitter, facebook and blogging) and how to valorize your work and reach out to different audiences. All this was addressed by a very good presentation by Jessica Dorsey, from the Asser Institute, who has truckloads of experience in this field already, particularly for her excellent work over at Opinio Juris.

More generally, the discussion brought to mind some thoughts, which I had already partly discussed here, and which are all linked to the basic idea that these new online forms of academic expression are here to stay. This has a number of consequences.

1) This phenomenon cannot be ignored by traditional actors in the field, who must acknowledge that there is no going back from the age of blogs and authors wanting their drafts on SSRN very quickly. Of course, this has consequences for the whole market structure and dynamics and it is a problem, in terms of copyright for example, but the issue must be tackled head on, if not everybody will lose from the situation.

2) One particular way in which I think blogs will have an impact on traditional publishing is on certain types of articles. For me, the casenote will be less and less valuable in a print edition of a journal that comes out every 3 months. By that time, dozens of blogs have produced extensive commentary on particular judgements or cases. Only more in-depth pieces which include the judgment in broader discussions will make sense on such a long publishing timescale.

3) Funnily enough, I see a lot of publications in a number of (even prestigious journals) which originated as blogpost and frankly don’t seem to have been changed much from their online publication to print, other than some footnotes being added. I don’t know if it is a good thing or not, but it is a point rarely made.

4) New forms of collaborations must be developed, even more than they have been in recent years. In that spirit, a number of journals, including the Leiden Journal of International Law, organize regular online symposiums on Opinio Juris on some of its articles which bring in some element of dynamic debate to the more in-depth process that goes into writing and understanding an article. Other forms of collaboration could include the possibility for allowing online responses to published articles, and rejoinders, as is done on EJIL Talk!.

And now for a wild prediction. I’m wondering if within a few years, this kind of skill will not become an essential part of the basic package that might be expected from academics, maybe not on the same level, but along with research skills, capacity to publish traditional articles and teaching. And I mean this both from a technical point of view and one the substance. From a technical point of view, there will come a point where not knowing how to use twitter or promote your work on internet might be just as much a handicap as not knowing how to use a computer. On the substance, writing for the internet requires certain skills which are not the same as traditional academic writing. In this sense, I think that the idea that some people have expressed in the past that any schmuck with a keyboard can write something online without the safeguards of peer-review or traditional codes of academic writing is somewhat misplaced. Indeed, ultimately, for all forms of expression, the litmus test of quality is always the same one: is your audience happy or not? On this, there is no difference between traditional academia and online blogging in answering the age-old question: are you good at what you do or not?

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