This month’s “salon-style” call focused on the changing landscape of social media, and how STEM professionals are engaging (or not) on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and more. Lou and Katie created a loose scaffold to facilitate the call, drawing on their many, many years of life online, and we thoroughly enjoyed the conversation that unfolded.
We did not record this month’s call, so that everyone who participated could feel comfortable sharing their opinions and experiences, and this recap is intentionally free of identifying information. We’ve also collected the resources shared on the call at the end of this post – from books to blog posts to suggestions of people to follow – so scroll on to find out more!
Elephants and birds
We started the call with a three-question poll that asked about people’s current attitudes towards social media, both personally and professionally. Approximately half of the participants on the call acknowledged a gradual retreat from sharing about themselves online, while maintaining at least some engagement with social media to follow the news and stay in touch with far-flung friends and family.
We spent some time discussing the recent move of some STEM individuals and organizations from Twitter to Mastodon, a federated social media platform with numerous connected instances. One participant on the call had even created their own instance to support their community (although noted that it was not for the faint of heart!). And we discussed the growing realization that in order to have more control over the tools that you use (and therefore what happens with your data) you need to have, or acquire, the technical skill to manage those tools.
A tension remains for many community managers, however, between the idealistic clash between their values and Twitter’s new management, and the ongoing use of the platform by their members. For now, it seems that a hybrid approach is the way to go; maintaining existing profiles while exploring other options.
Ever-evolving tools – and behaviors
As tools evolve in function, and/or reveal themselves to be less safe spaces, so the use of those tools evolves as well. One example of “the old days” that came up was the excitement a conference hashtag could generate, with participants live-tweeting sessions and session hosts prominently displaying the feed, all working together to actively engage with online commenters so that they could participate from afar. Conversations like these seem to have migrated into closed-off spaces, such as Slack communities, which offer intimacy and safety but which also reduce who is able to discover the event and participate.
Another concern with online spaces is safety. This might be due to an increased awareness of how our data are being used (or could be) and how much we may unintentionally give away about ourselves; something that’s been made even more prominent with recent AI advances. It can also be due to poor moderation and safety features – with public threads becoming the target of more heated (and sometimes abusive) discussion than the original poster intended.
Much of this points towards an interest in “gated” communities – with a clear area of focus and more control over who is invited to participate.
“The cozy web”
This idea of curated or gated communities is something Lou and Katie had already been discussing after finding a provocative illustration online of “the cozy web:”
We especially like this quote from the article, which reflects some of the sentiments shared on the call about retreating from sharing on online platforms:
“The “dark forest” is a place that seems eerily quiet and devoid of life. All the living creatures within it are hiding. Because “night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent….The predators here are the advertisers, tracking bots, clickbait creators, attention-hungry influencers, reply guys, and trolls. It’s unsafe to reveal yourself to them in any authentic way. So we retreat into private spaces. We hide in the cozy web.””
It’s also a useful analogy for considering how community members interact with online platforms, and therefore how we as community managers invest our time and energy in cultivating programming in those spaces. Are we now predominantly hosts of “cozy spaces” (and maybe the negative connotations that the word “cozy” might inspire), only occasionally venturing into the dark forest to connect with potential new members? What happens if everyone flees the forest? How and where do we reach new audiences then?
The metaphor can also help us to examine our choices around which technical tools to use. For example, If members are more comfortable in their email inboxes, then maybe a Google Group or listerv is the way to connect them. If they would prefer some deeper connection away from the dark forest, perhaps a private Slack group could work. And if they enjoy receiving curated newsletters (ahem…like the CSCCE Slack Roundup), then spending time creating those mailers is justified.
Goals, intention, and time
Time is, for most of us, a finite and valuable resource. Every day we have to weigh our priorities and decide where to spend it. Some folks noted that by spending too much time on social media, they might neglect large chunks of their membership who don’t use it.
One of the main takeaways from today’s call was that if you are using social media to connect with your community, think carefully about why. Creating lists of Twitter users that are part of your community can help you stay connected to their news, while also offering a way for new members to find each other. Facilitating conversations in a private Facebook group makes sense if your metrics suggest members are using it. And switching to Mastodon might be the right move, even with all the overhead of finding your followers and learning a new platform, if your community would prefer to be there.
We’re still ironing out our plans for next month’s community call, but you can mark your calendars for 17 May at 11am EDT / 3pm UTC. And as always, if you have suggestions for topics you’d like us to cover, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A list of the things folks shared on the call. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every relevant resource. If you have suggestions of things to add, please reach out to email@example.com.
- Twitter and Tear Gas – Zeynep Tufekci
- Alone Together – Sherry Turkle
- It’s complicated – the social lives of networked teens – danah boyd
- How to Do Nothing – Jenny Odell
- Saving Time! – Jenny Odell
- Enchantment – Katherine May
- Rest is Resistance – Tricia Hersey
- Burnout – Emily and Amelia Nagoski
- The Dark Forest and the Cozy Web
- Can Mastodon be a Twitter refuge for marginalized groups?
- Community statements on moving from Twitter to Mastodon: