For a while it seemed like the deal wasn’t going to go through. After his initial offer, Elon Musk tried everything he could to back out of it, short of sitting for a deposition in the resulting law suit. But, at the end of the day, it went through, and Elon Musk now owns Twitter.
Lots of folks are worried about what a Musk-controlled Twitter will become. His conditional commitment to press freedom depends entirely on how much praise is heaped upon him. His record as an employer is a mess. And now he controls one of the most potent, though slowly waning, outlets for public engagement, and certainly the preferred medium of journalists and politicians.
I’ve taught Social Media for Environmental Communications at Duke University for the last 11 years. Every year there’s been some big social media shakeup, and every year we look at how that shakeup will impact professionals using social media primary as an outreach and engagement tool. This has the potential to big the biggest shift in how folks approach social media that we’ve seen in a long time. But it also could be a whole heap of nothing. It all depends on the whims of a single, inconsistent owner who may not really know what he has or what his vision for it is.
So what will this new Twitter look like? I suspect that we won’t see tectonic shifts in how Twitter operates immediately. It will take months for any of Musk’s vision to trickle into the user experience. I don’t get the impression that there are many people left for whom an ownership change is going to push them to finally get a Twitter account. The platform seems largely out of its growth phase. So there will likely be a slow and steady attrition of users as they get less and less out of using Twitter. They won’t be replaced.
Long-term, I expect to see a hard push towards monetization of an increasingly small active user base. Which, in itself, will make that user base even smaller.
Eleven years is a long life for a science blog. Southern Fried Science was born in 2008, when the main writers were all graduate students. Over the last decade the online landscape has changed. Science Communication changed with it, adapting and evolving to meet an ever-shifting ecosystem. Looking back on the last decade and thinking about the next, it’s becoming easier to see where we went wrong. It’s not quite as easy to determine what we need to correct the course.
This is not a scientific assessment, this is my own personal observations from the last decade of running Southern Fried Science, from teaching Social Media for Environmental Communications for the last 7 years, from working with Upwell, one of the most dynamic and visionary ocean NGOs ever conceived, from helping build and launch multiple online platforms, dozens of novel programs, and hundreds of outreach campaigns, and from spending a lot of time since November 2016 reflecting on what we’ve done wrong.
That Hideous Deficit
Do we really need another 200 words on how bad the deficit model is and why it needs to die?
The basic premise: that science perception and policy is shaped by an information deficit and that if we just make good science education content and spread it, we can combat the spread of misinformation, people will learn, and everything will get better.
It doesn’t work. It never worked. And it ignores the reality that misinformation is manufactured for political and financial gain, with tremendous incentives and, often, far better funding than science outreach campaigns. But beyond that, multiple studies have shown that, when confronted with information that challenges their fundamental world view, people don’t throw out their worldview, they reject the science, creating a more entrenched and intractable audience.
Social media can be a great tool for spreading and disseminating published science. Potentially it can reach a wide audience and for free !
Most platforms allow you to insert links to direct readers to the original paper or publication. If you are working in an area that is relevant to conservation or policy, social media can be a great way of getting papers to the right audience that may need that information (Parsons et al., 2014). Moreover, there is now increasing data that using social media can increase download and citation rates of scientific papers, which in turn is good for the careers of scientists in an academic setting.
My wife, on the other hand, is a social scientist who works on development here in Mexico. When we first started dating, I used to tease her for being a soft little scientist in her soft little science. I now understand that helping a community pull itself out of poverty is more complex than brain surgery or quantum physics.
There is no magic equation for community organizing but she begins by understanding that “the community” isn’t some monolithic creature that thinks as a unit. There are complex politics and power dynamics at work that can either aid or destroy all her efforts.
I now understand why the vaquita is going extinct. They sent too many people like me into the region and not enough like her.
We made a bot. It’s not a very good bot but it does prognosticate on novel ocean conservation solutions. @OceanCon_Bot has been running for almost a month and it’s produced some real gems. Solid, salt-of-the-earth, diamond-in-the-rough, gabbro-in-your-lab, bro, solutions. And these are among my favorites.
We definitely need to stop presenting those condescending academics, but why so down on transparency, @OceanCon_Bot?
Catalyze lionfish and address Caribbean extinction? I guess you can’t really do both.
Hashtag games. A few times a week, these weird, funny, quirky wordplay challenges explode across twitter, driving the most serious, and sometimes even super-serious, tweeters to pause for a moment of levity and let you know what they think Jaws is really about.
Goofy, whimsical, and extremely silly, one might wonder why scientists and science communicators would want to jump into these games, potentially compromising the reputation they’ve built up as a Serious Scientist (TM), unswayed by such foolishness.
The answer is simple: Playing hashtag games makes you a better communicator of science.