THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

October 18, 2012

Do you tweet? Or blog? How should you react if your online musings put someone's nose out of joint, particularly if it is an academic who is less enamoured of the idea of public online discussion than you?

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association in the US, calls such altercations "blogging kerfuffles".

In a recent post on her Planned Obsolescence blog (, she points out that while some of us like nothing more than conversing online while a fellow academic gives a presentation, others are "less comfortable" with the idea - and can be quick to complain.

So how should you react if you are chastised for your online articulations? Give up social networking altogether and run for the hills? Dr Fitzpatrick has some sound advice for the accidental web antagonist.

First, "do not let dust-ups such as these stop you from blogging/tweeting/whatever", she asserts. "These modes of direct scholar-to-scholar communication are increasingly important, and if you've found community in them, you should work to maintain it."

Such spats can also be a source of great information, if you open your ears, Dr Fitzpatrick adds. "Listen carefully to these debates ... as they will tell you something important about your field and the folks in it," she says. "There's a lot to be learned from these points of tension in any community."

One of the main concerns about "live tweeting" surrounds intellectual property. If a person is presenting new research on stage, they might not wish for it to be immediately posted on the internet for all to see.

"Does a blog post about a presentation undermine the claims of the speaker to the material?" Dr Fitzpatrick asks. "The answer is of course not, but if you want to avoid conflict around such (intellectual property) issues, ensure that your posts focus on your carefully signalled responses to the talk, rather than on the text of the talk itself."

Ultimately, a relaxed approach to any seemingly volatile situation will see you through. "People are going to freak out about the things they're going to freak out about," Dr Fitzpatrick says.

But allowing for the fact that people can be wound up by just about anything if they put their minds to it, Dr Fitzpatrick says the best tip for those new to online social networks is to use them in the same professional way that they would in writing more formally.

"In our more formal writing, we're extremely careful to distinguish between our own arguments and the ideas of others - between our interpretation of what someone else has said and the conclusions that we go on to draw - and we have clear textual signals that mark those distinctions."

Finally, a respect for the feelings of others has to be central to any online activity, she says.

"If somebody says they'd prefer not to be tweeted or blogged, respect that," Dr Fitzpatrick writes. "Whatever your feelings about the value of openness - and openness ranks very high among my academic values - not everyone shares them."

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