Sunday, March 29, 2015

To Tweet or not to Tweet

When I selected “Networking” as my blog post topic, I was not at all certain of what to expect from it. Social networking and teaching had never been something I had associated with one another. Reading Dorothy Kim’s The Rules of Twitter reminded me that the internet itself is a learning experience, something that we might not think about while we’re following links and scrolling down our Facebook timelines, Tumblr dashboards, or Twitter feeds. She put terms to concepts I’ve known of but not thought to define—the digital mediated public space as a protest space and a place for public grief. She puts an emphasis on the ethics, rules, and etiquette of using a microblogging platform, and rightly so.

Her introduction to this mediated public space is to point to those predicting “the demise of the social media microblogging platform.” Considering everything that has happened and will keep happening, I couldn’t help but feel incredulous. Kim points out the use of hashtags such as #Ferguson and #BlackOutBlackFriday—both of which I was aware of while they were happening because of social media. These are signs that the microblogging platform is still going strong, despite what the “white male pundits” who “always imagined [Twitter] as safe, suburban—by default—white, and upper-middle class” are lamenting. I recall during the December of 2010 when the Arab Spring began and the only news I was hearing about it was from bloggers and tweeters experiencing it. Kim goes on to say Twitter “was never a porch, it has always been a mediated public space, a hacked public space.” This is the Twitter I know and appreciate! This porch business, narrow and limiting, has nothing to do with the online space I know.

Twitter as a platform for learning is an interesting concept, which we’ve touched on during the semester. The ongoing conversations “annotating” the texts we read, entire tweet conversations mulling over the same question or related issues that come to mind is only a fraction of what one could do on Twitter. In addition to how we’ve used it, the idea of public lectures and live tweeting conferences are interesting new ideas to me, ideas I'm not certain how one would apply to a classroom. The hashtags encouraging open discussion can be another means for students to connect with the information out there. Students who know how to use Twitter and know the etiquette and ethics can engage in the hashtags and open forums. Kim rightly points out that “harvesting, quoting, and using others tweets without consent, attribution, discussion, or compensation/credit is a major problem.” Any students writing essays on subjects that require cited sources from Twitter need to know how to source correctly and ask permission to use the material. We do it for academic journals and websites, Twitter should be treated the same—by both journalists and academics.

Like Kim, my Twitter is a “space of activism and justice.” While I do not actively Tweet—unless there is something of particular interest to my father who is a prolific Tweeter—I keep an eye on my feed for news and happenings among those I follow. I have seen feeds set ablaze by current events—raging at the events happening around the world going largely ignored by the major news groups, by society, and by governments. If students understand, as Kim says, that “you will earn respect by what you say and what you do; by who you defend and who and what you fight for,” they can garner a truly interesting perspective on events and a chance to explore it with those involved, if they dare to engage.

But what might a “Twitter assignment” look like? The articles linked by Kim, such as #TwitterEthics Manifesto, could be efficient starting points in teaching students the do’s and don’ts of Twitter (and online) life. Social Media is a Conversation Not a Press Release by Zeynep Tufekci builds on that. The resources are there for students to explore and learn. They could even take a hashtag such as #Ferguson and explore the what, how, and why’s of it.

And finally, to the class, what do you think? What do you use Twitter for, how do you see it used, and why do you see others use it? Do you think there’s a place for it (or other forms of social media) in the classroom?


  1. Thanks so much for this thoughtful post, Tiril. Given the fact that you are required to tweet the course readings, I think Twitter offers a potentially great platform for social annotation. More importantly, perhaps, I also think that the concision and precision demanded of tweeting makes us better writers. As you might expect by now, there is a medieval pedagogical precedent for this - medieval schoolmasters required their students to practice taking longer passages of prose and abbreviating them to their essences [for more on this medieval correlation, see Kim again here:]. Just as it is important for students to learn elaboration, I think they need to learn abbreviation. I actually think abbreviation is one of the most neglected rhetorical practices. Just like texting, Twitter demands abbreviation, but the audience for Twitter is much larger. This makes it a political practice as well, whether we like it or not. As Tiril and Kim suggest, Twitter is an exciting, potentially subversive, tool.

  2. I never had a twitter account until this class, however I have noticed hashtags as a source of protest on Facebook, or hashtags as a means of highlighting an interesting news story. For instance ‘#germanwings’ is not a protest but merely a way of highlighting a leading news story of the week. I am assuming these hashtags that I see on Facebook originated on twitter. From my friends that do have twitter, they primarily use it to update or comment on something that they are doing. I have never considered social classes or racial profiles of people using twitter until reading the article. I’m not sure I followed Kim’s analogy of a porch for middle class white males and twitter as being inclusive of racially mixed people. Aren’t all mainstream social sites inclusive of racially mixed people?
    Since I don’t use twitter outside of English 613, I can only speculate on what twitter is really used for. However I agree with professor Mueller about twitter being a useful tool in practicing abbreviation. As we read about last week in DeVoss, one of the online activities that students were assigned was to take 500 words and condense it down into 100. Saying more with less (words) is just as important as being able to develop 100 words into 500. Twitter is useful for this practice as well as focusing on how students receive and express themselves through language, as DeVoss suggests the main goal of digital writing should (102).
    Using digital writing for live classroom quotes or academic talks was something I had never really given any thought to until reading this article. I would agree with Tiril. Kim’s point about needing permission to tweet a quote from an academic lecture or talk is valid. If you think about it, needing permission to quote someone is much like a journalist receiving permission to quote a source. Students should be taught this. I think twitter is also a good way to share resources amongst students (like how Samantha shared/tweeted that article to the rest of the class last week), or for teachers to update things “on the fly.”
    One last note- I really thought Kim’s likening of a journalist or an academic retweeting someone’s tweet without asking, to stalking and violent aggression, quite absurd. Twitter is a public space and users must be cognizant of the fact that once their thoughts are published to twitter they may be shared with an inordinate number of people. If someone retweets something that you publicly posted I am unsure of how Kim can call that violent aggression and stalking (but again- I don’t use twitter). Food for thought!

  3. Excellent post! You make great work of reviewing Kim’s article and presenting your own ideas. Well done!

    Twitter, to me, is most intriguing in the incredible variety of its users, with the spectrum including the official accounts of politicians towing party lines as well as anarchists hoping to destroy our current paradigms. Moreover, I absolute love the notion that there is a solid contingent of Twitter users who defy the platforms original intentions, which Kim states “were likely about networking for information and commerce, not for the goals of political and social protest, the vocalization and amplification of minority voices and points of view.”

    There’s something about the very thought of subverting rigid systems that gets my blood pumpin’!

    As such, I think there’s a great deal of good that can come from politically-, socially-, protest-minded Twitter usage. As Tiril points out, the electricity created by hashtagging has led to actual social awareness, which is wonderful. To this, I have to echo Tiril’s enthusiasm for Kim’s assertion that Twitter “was never a porch, it has always been a mediated public space, a hacked public space.”

    However, I can’t wholeheartedly agree.

    Although Twitter, at its best, is a hacked public space empowering the disenfranchised and giving voices to the voiceless, for many of its users it is pretty much a porch. Or perhaps a living room. In either case, there is often quite a bit of “talking” that occurs in the Twitter-sphere (is it still called that?) that does not lead to actual action. Now, there’s some serious opportunity for discussing just how worthwhile “raising awareness” is in its own right – perhaps the debate about CLICKTIVISM is worth discussing in class?

    As far as how I use Twitter in my teaching practice, it has been pretty limited thus far. Some of coworkers keep teacher accounts active, tweeting out homework reminders and links to related readings and so on. I haven’t ventured down that rabbit hole, but I’m not necessarily opposed to it.

    However, one of the best lessons I’ve done this year asked my AP Literature students to rewrite scenes from Hamlet in character-tweets. The kids were absolutely floored, with their results leading to fantastic discussions of both the text and social media.

    Feel free to check out my slideshow for the lesson:

  4. Like Marisa, I am currently not a big Twitter user. I have the Pulse app on my phone, and as far as I can tell it serves the same purpose – a steady stream of news based on your own preferences. I used to use Twitter frequently – however, I felt that there was too much bias coming in the Tweets I received, even from the same places where I was receiving Pulse news updates. So, I ditched it and just stuck with Pulse. Honestly, Pulse allows for more straightforward lunchtime reading – you click on one link and are taken to a whole article. When I look at tweets I generally find myself clicking down a path of unending tweets and links. By the time I’m done with my sandwich, I’ve looked at so many things that I can’t even remember where I started.

    I’m also not a fan of holding court on my porch or living room, as Allen has said; so, I never used Twitter as a means of showing my own interests, following a cause, sharing opinions, etc. However, I do believe that it is a great way to practice engaging in other contexts that someone normally would not. In a sense I feel that it would be beneficial for me to emerge myself in Twitter again, allowing myself to be put in a situation that is out of my digital comfort zone. Maybe I’ll fire it up tonight and show all 2 of my followers just how important I find ice cream to happiness. There’s my clicktivism.

    I have to applaud Allen for using Twitter with his students! I have not been as daring, mainly because our server at school blocks Twitter from the iPads that belongs to my students. I think that tweeting would be an excellent way to have students role-play and engage in what James Paul Gee calls a semiotic domain. While I use other modes for role-play, I think Twitter would be an extremely engaging platform since most students, especially mine, use it as a regular means of communication. Students would be able to easily infuse newly formed vocab and brief discourse practices that would allow them to dip their toes in other domains. As Gee says, “The entry price for any domain is this: Learners must be willing and motivated to engage in extended practice in the domain in such a way that they take on and grow into a new socially-situated identity, an identity that they can see as a fruitful extension of their core sense of self” (11). Twitter would be a friendly way to keep students in the mindset that they can use the language of other professionals (or characters in Allen’s case) without much of a backlash if they make a mistake in the digital classroom setting. However, if they use there accounts to berate others, than they will suffer the consequences.

  5. Thank you Tiril for sharing with us your thought about Twitter.

    Actually I’m quite hesitant whether I should participate in the discussion about Twitter. Some of you may know that China is currently blocking websites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and even Google (which I cannot understand why). You may wonder how can we live without these, but we do have substitutes for these websites. For example, we have “Weibo”(the name means microblog in Chinese), which serves the same function as Twitter (even the character limits), if I understand Twitter correctly.

    Like Marisa, I’ve never give a thought to the social classes or racial profiles of people using these social networking websites (I cannot say Twitter since I didn’t use it until I came here and take English 613), but I assume that as long as it is an openly public space, people have equal right to make their voice heard, and that’s the most valuable characteristic about public space. Ordinary people’s petition attracts the public attention by posting and reposting, especially by those VIP users who have thousands of followers. I’m not sure if Weibo is a hacked public space or an originally intended one since it borrows its idea from Twitter. I use Weibo to read some news, look for some interesting things that happen around, and follow the updates of my favorite stars. But sometimes the feeds can be annoying when there are many accounts recommending or selling things.

    In terms of how we may use it in our live classroom, I don’t really know. English 613 has introduced so many novel things to me, one of which is to use Twitter to annotate the reading materials by hashtags. I have never thought that Twitter, which I think is mostly an entertainment space, can be used as an assistance to learning. I never see people in China use Weibo to teach. But after I try to follow Alex’s instructions, I find it quite interesting. Just Allen says “The kids were absolutely floored, with their results leading to fantastic discussions of both the text and social media”, I think it might also be taken into my classroom use in the future. However, what remains to be solved is how to keep the students focus on the content of class instead of being attracted by other interesting feeds, which are inevitable when you use Twitter or Weibo to teach.

  6. Thank you Tiril, for your wonderful and thought provoking post. I think Alex has proven some of the pedagogical advantages of Twitter, and from a sort of unmediated source of information, I think Twitter acts as this sort of wonderful method of instantaneous concentrated information that other social media methods can't quite really match.

    While I understand and can appreciate the sort of activist point of view of Kim's article, some of it's tone and implications of her rules as presented, makes me weary and serves in my eyes to potentially be more harmful for use of furthering it as a tool than being helpful. It's very likely part of the kind punk aesthetic that runs through me, but many of the "rules for Twitter" as she presents them in her article seem counter productive to what Twitter acts as, which is this sort of space of social congregation, that good and bad, allow a unique kind of experience to occur, that stunted by many of her rules as presented, I feel potential fundamental changes the beauty and chaos of what Twitter actually is and can be.

    I think that there's no doubt that abusive and predatory behavior as it exists on Twitter should be discouraged and absolutely rejected. That being said, the fact that these situations even occur have made essential discussions occur within society and many of these communities that have been needed for a while. It's hard to argue, for instance, that the misogyny and sexism that occurred and was highlighted by the #gamergate controversy didn't already exist in gaming, as anybody who plays online can see it represented for years and years by any number of closeted misogynists. However, by #gamergate occurring, we are now having a conversation that should have been had long ago and likely would not have happened if Kim's rules for social politeness are followed to the T. Does that mean I believe women should ever be threatened online? Absolutely not. And I'm not sure there's a neat answer for any of what occurs, but I think Kim's rules push these issues under the surface to a place that becomes more subversive than it ought to be. I also believe there's something to be said for knowing exactly who "the enemy" is. The specific tone of Kim's rules rubbed me the wrong way, not because of what their purpose is, but more in how they are presented, as rule of fact.

    Twitter, as with much social media, is public first. As such, by using such forms of communication, we all take on a certain level of responsibility in using them, both good and bad, that I think Kim's rules ignore.

  7. Thanks for the thought-provoking post Tiril!

    I’ve never had my own twitter account, except the recently created one for this class, but ironically – I do a ton of tweeting!

    For the last few years I worked as the assistant to an author in NYC. I worked remotely and a large chunk of my responsibilities were comprised of maintaining her twitter and facebook accounts. She ostensibly trained me to impersonate her on twitter [what kind of voice she uses in her tweets, which abbreviations she likes/dislikes, who is safe to RT, who are our supporters, etc.) After reading Kim’s article it struck me how much this utilization of Twitter has colored my understanding of the platform and its possibilities. When I tweeted, I was always imitating and promoting, exercising extreme caution and politeness and staying as far away from potentially controversial conversations. I had no personal investment in the tweeting I was doing so I don’t think many of the subversive possibilities suggested by Kim were apparent to me. I like her rules about responding to public grief a lot. Grieving publicly, on FB and Twitter, is tricky territory but Kim does a really nice job of setting some hard and fast rules that make a lot of sense, it really boils down to respect.

    One small area of her piece that I found myself questioning was this bit:

    “Therefore, when journalists, academics, and MRA activists from 4chan decide to use this digital space to harvest tweets without consent, permission, discussion, interaction, or credit/compensation, it is a form of harassment, stalking, and violent aggression.”

    I wonder, does Kim’s assertion here protect folks who are tweeting offensive things and/or interacting on Twitter in character-revealing ways from being exposed? Is it ok to harvest old tweets from politicians if they bring some important piece of information to light? Is it ever ok to use a “bad” persons old tweets against them?

  8. Thanks for posting, Tiril! It’s funny how closely this account reflects my own history of use with Twitter. As it stands right now, I’ve only used my Twitter account to for one specific purpose (aside from Alex assignments, of course): I signed up for Twitter so I could get updates from the MBTA during the week after the Boston Marathon bombings. I know it’s not for the exact same purposes, as the essay describes more of an activist-focused use, but I think the same underlying impulse to use the service shows up in both. The idea is quick-blast social info. A problem I see with this format, though is that what the platform excels at in speed it often loses in veracity. Again, I tend to think of the marathon bombings, and how this very type of social media collaboration not only did not succeed in identifying the bombers, but in fact actually lead to the misidentification of two innocent people, resulting in the internet equivalent of a torch mob that defamed the both of them and ended up in a law suit. Social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook are great ways to disseminate ideas to large bodies of people, but severely falters when it comes to making sure claims are verified. Even harder is redacting a piece of information that ends up being outed as false, popularity is based on sharing and redactions get nowhere near as much traffic as the original piece of sensationalism.

    And it is for this reason I’d find it a challenge – not impossible but a challenge – to incorporate a social networking medium into a classroom setting. One way that I could see this medium as being worthwhile, though, could be in a digital version of the ‘choral reading’ group activity. Students could have a HW assignment wherein they must tweet lines of significance from their assigned text using a hashtag that aggregates all students into the same area, and then periodically return to retweet other students’ lines that they find intriguing. The teacher could then collect which tweets saw the most sharing and bring them to class to fuel a discussion about why it happened that way.

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  10. Thanks, Tiril! This was not an easy subject to tackle in such a short amount of space, and you did a great job of it. The term “networking” is one that carries many implications, and although like others, I have only used Twitter for this class, I use or encounter social media pretty much every day of my life. I think Kim’s article does a great job of breaking down the main uses of Twitter, and summarizes much of the positive and negative repercussions of this “hacked public space.” As Kim points out, we “don’t expect technology to conform to our consumption habits; we adapt to the platforms we’re given and make them our own.” Twitter has been beneficial in many ways since we’ve “made it our own.” A great example of this “clicktivism” is the ice-bucket challenge that went virtual pretty much overnight, thanks to social media and hashtags. Although many argued at the time that the biggest flaw of this campaign was that most people participated in the challenge without donating to ALS, the awareness that it raised was immense, and even without the financial support of every single person involved, donations were still over 90% higher than they were the previous year, according to The ALS Association.

    Like Eric, I also had questions while reading Kim’s article, and couldn’t help but feel that a lot of her points contradict what outlets such as Twitter stand for. Yes, of course, we should teach students how to be respectful when they’re behind a keyboard, and a lot of the rules she writes about read like a guide to basic human decency. But just as we all need a refresher in these rules, there will always be people that don’t care about them and seek to defy them. I was particularly concerned about her section titled “Twitter as a space for Public Community Grief.” Her bullet points to me sound like they’ve been taken from a book on etiquette, and ok, it’s good to remind everyone of these basic rules. In her last rule, however, she sort of contradicts the first 5 by stating “never tone-police and tell the community grieving that they should grieve in the way you, as an outsider, feel is appropriate.” So here she recognizes what I believe to be true, that we should never judge someone else for grieving the way they want to, but her rules- even though I think they intend to emphasize respect, could discourage dialogue that make Twitter so rich and complex. As Eric points out, “the fact that these situations even occur have made essential discussions occur within society and many of these communities that have been needed for a while.” Our goal should be to take these opportunities, heated and complex as they may be, to learn more about the grieving process and human relations, rather than trying to organize and control them with rules. Doesn’t doing so compromise the learning experiences that make Twitter more than just a space to share chocolate cake recipes and follow celebrities?

  11. I use Twitter very, very frequently. I first got a Twitter account when I was a sophomore in college, mainly because I was bored with Facebook and my roommate was tweeting all the time so I wanted to see what it was about. And since then, I've become a bit of a twitter addict. However, I don't follow people I don't know and my account is usually private so that people I don't know do not follow me. I only made it public for the purpose of this class and once the class has concluded, I will be making it private once again.

    I've used Twitter for many things over the years. I've used it to share articles that I thought my friends would find funny. Since I moved out of Amherst, I've used it to keep up with my friends from band or with my sorority sisters. I even have a cousin who I don't see too often and I use Twitter to keep up with her. I also use Twitter to post random thoughts throughout my day about what I am doing/seeing/hearing.

    I've seen Twitter used in many ways. I think people use Twitter as any other form of social media. I've seen it used as a way to share thoughts on a political subject with the use of hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #YesAllWomen. I've seen it used for people to share their opinion on really any topic imaginable. From sports to politics to how much one loves carbs.

    I think Twitter has some place in the classroom I'm just not sure what that place is. I think the idea of having students explore hashtag is great idea. Having them look up a hashtag and bring to class a few tweets that they found interesting. Or looking up a hashtag and bringing in one or two articles they found with the hashtag. But tweets as a source to cite? I'm not so sure. Even if it's a verified account (the official account of a celebrity, politician, or other public figure/organization), how would a student cite a tweet?

    I agree with Kim's rules for the most part. I think the rules of giving respect to a grieving community are definitely important points that should be taught to all people who tweet about a tragedy (such as Ferguson). However, I disagree with saying that retweeting something without permission is akin to being violated. If you're account is public, and you tweet something that a follower finds interesting, they have every right to retweet it. Twitter, in the end, is a form of social media that, unless made private, is public for all to see and I think that is something that people forget from time to time.

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  13. Thank you for your post, Tiril! There were a lot of fascinating and (clearly) debatable issues brought up in this reading. Similar to other folks I had not spent much time working with Twitter before this class. I have had an account for years and look at it regularly, but I have never done much tweeting of my own. I do however use it regularly as a news source, and I think it is amazing to see the range of stories and ideas that are able to reach a wide and growing audience through this platform, many of which would never have gained traction through the traditional news media. Like Allen and others I agree that one of the most wonderful things about Twitter is the range of people who use it and the diversity of the issues and perspectives addressed.

    It is also clear that social media platforms have huge potential for organizing people around a cause, drawing attention to an issue or event, and gathering support for a certain position. Kim mentions a number of noteworthy examples of Twitter activism when this power was used positively. But of course we also know that a Twitter campaign can turn nasty, and that the energy and momentum that emerges can sometimes become targeted abuse and harassment. Cyberbullying, trolling, hate speech, and whatever else you call it, it is clear that this kind of behavior is a significant problem in the online world, so it makes sense that Kim and her colleagues want to establish some rules or guidelines for how we behave in this new public space.

    However, I also take Erik’s point that “the fact that these situations even occur have made essential discussions occur within society and many of these communities that have been needed for a while.” The vitriol that emerges on Twitter or on comment boards, etc. is often reflective of significant existing tensions, resentments, and prejudices, and in some cases exposing them through this kind of forum might allow us as a community to unpack and hopefully overcome those biases. Of course that is the best case scenario. On the flip side, the anonymity of Twitter can also allow for the increased spread of resentments and prejudices as hateful ideas and biased interpretations of events are more easily shared. Such a complex issue! I am sure we will have plenty to discuss tonight.

  14. Like many of the respondents to Tiril’s post, I did not have a twitter account prior to this class. That being said, I think it is important to recognize that all of our students will have a twitter account, and if it can be used effectively as a learning tool than it is something we should think about using, whether we like twitter or not. When thinking of twitter as a tool for social activism, the classroom connections can easily be made to a political science class. I think that there are equally relevant connections that can be made to the English classroom, although these may be less instantly apparent. We’ve looked at how blogs can be used to facilitate, or in some cases supplement, class discussion, but the format of twitter is much different than a blogs format and so it should be considered how these can and should be used differently. A blog may be the best tool for a closed class discussion, where students only respond to one another. Twitter, on the other hand, works precisely because it is an open conversation in which people respond to ideas, often without knowing the tweeter. Because of this, it is important to make sure that if we are asking our students to use twitter for class, it should be in a way that connects the ideas they are developing within class to the broader world. In many ways this is the goal of the English instructor, and so twitter may be a very useful tool for emphasizing this.

    Perhaps a way of achieving such a broad conversation is to have students apply the things they are reading in class to trending hashtags, or current events. If is #ferguson is trending, a student may be able to apply some literary analysis of “Civil Disobedience” to that conversation. By making connections between the seemingly abstract job of analyzing texts in English and the world that exists outside the classroom, students will begin to see why they are reading new ideas and how to start making these connections on their own.


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