Using social media as a [newbie] academic – Part 3: the dilemma(s) of integrity

I have always been interested in the ethical dilemmas brought about by social media. (Actually, writing this post reminded me of a blog I wrote during my Bachelor years – in German – about the benefits and risks related to self-marketing in social networks.) However, before I started blogging and actively using Twitter and LinkedIn myself, my perspective on those integrity-related dilemmas was that of an external observer (“lurker”, I think, is the term…). Now, I have been able to experience (at least some of) them first-hand. Keeping a blog and sharing contents on social media, especially within a work-related context, does raise important and often complex questions. In this post, I will share some of the concerns and unanswered questions I have regarding my use of social media as part of my professional role.

  • What contents can I write about and / or share?
    From a professional perspective, this question encompasses several different topics. First of all, should I restrict my writing / sharing practices to contents related to my research field and areas of professional activity (teaching, project management etc.), or can I also write about and share articles that fall outside of this scope? Another, related question is the matter of opinion sharing. Am I free to express or hint to the opinions and political stances I have as a private person in social media accounts used in a work-related context? If so, are there boundaries I should be careful not to cross, particularly value-loaded and controversial topics I should refrain from addressing when talking as my “academic persona”? At a more practical level, do I need to add disclaimers to my social media accounts, as some recommend doing [1] [2], in order to dissociate my employer from the contents I write and share?
  • How often should I share? How selective should I be in my sharing?
    This is mainly a question of social media etiquette, but it is of course important to consider since both the contents one shares on social media and the frequency with which one does it will affect others’ perception of who we are and what we stand for. Should I share whatever I find interesting – regardless of topic, time of the day, previously shared content, or should I work on developing a strategy, defining rules about what, when and from whom to share? The question of authenticity comes into play here, as calculation and authenticity often are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Is it all right to leave room for genuineness and spontaneity, or is it taking too big a risk considering the persistence [3] of social media content and the potential negative impact of thoughtless click could have for my professional future?
  • Should I accept students into my social network?
    This is an issue I have encountered on LinkedIn and for which I have not yet found a definitive solution I am fully comfortable with. What should I do when students send me a contact request? On the one hand, they are, in some way, indubitably part of my professional environment. On the other hand, they are my students, which makes being – even virtually – connected to them outside of a teaching context seem strange and rather inappropriate to me. Am I living “in the past”, attached to considerations which have progressively become groundless in the hyper-connected world in which we now evolve, or is it (still) wise and reasonable to establish clear boundaries between peers and students?

What is your take on those questions and issues? Are there concerns I have overlooked? What strategies do you have in order to preserve your integrity in social media?

[1] Carrigan, M. (2016). Social Media for Academics. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
[2] Hank, C. (2012). Blogging your academic self: the what, the why and the how long? In D. Rasmussen Neal (Ed.), Social Media for Academics: a practical guide. Oxford: Chandos Publishing.
[3] Boyd, D. (2014). It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven: Yale University Press.