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Public scholarship and social media

August 11, 2011

I agree with Miriyam Aouragh’s recent post to the Media Anthropology Network mailing list that we as media students and scholars can contribute to the public discourse on current affairs such as the UK riots through a range of different channels, including mailing lists, blogs, Twitter, etc. We’ve never had so many outlets through which to participate, and quite a few of our colleagues across disciplines have already contributed to the debates around recent events in the Arab world, Spain, UK, and other countries.

For example, a couple of days ago I was surprised by the agility of Britain’s ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) in tweeting about a news item on their site that draws from past research on riots by my Sheffield Hallam colleague Dave Waddington, see Riots and Rationality: http://t.co/aMEco6O via @ESRC.

The Web works in mysterious ways and sometimes a scholarly item published in a small media niche can reach a wider audience, e.g. when picked up by a major news outlet via Twitter. This was the case with some articles from a blog named Techno-Sociology by Zeynep Tufekci at Maryland Univ. during the uprising in Egypt (NB – this blog is down at the moment).

Many of us haven’t got time to maintain a blog, in which case there exists the option of occasional posts through existing blogs, e.g. Savage Minds. And we’ve got our Network’s very own Media and Social Change blog!! ( just drop me a line if you wish to contribute a blog post). These days blog posts can reach diverse audiences via Facebook, Twitter, etc, in addition to mailing lists, other blogs and so on.

One Twitter trick is to cc: a quality blog post to one or two journalists or top bloggers in the hope that they will in turn retweet it to their thousands of followers. I haven’t done it much myself, but I’ve seen it work. Of course, if this becomes a routine spamming exercise it’s not going to work.

I’m finding that contrary to popular belief, Twitter is a very powerful platform to find and exchange useful information, particularly links to blog posts, news items, videos, etc. I simply couldn’t have done research into activism in Spain (2010-2011) without Twitter (well I could, but I would have missed a lot of the action). Twitter is a thriving informational market for activists, journalists, politicians, citizens and increasingly for academics and research students. Yes, there is a lot of misinformation as well, but after a while you learn how to avoid it (most of the time!).

In conclusion, there are plenty of media outlets available to us right now. If we don’t use them, we may lose them.

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