Academic Twitter: the Good, the Bad and the Unwarranted Twitter Review

Maliha Reza writes about the dark side of academic Twitter.

A simple tweet with the right hashtags will result in students and academics providing answers to the most obscure of questions. For the most part, academic Twitter serves its purpose of connecting people with similar research interests. It has, in many instances, resulted in collaborations between academic Tweeters on articles and books. Nonetheless, disseminating research through the medium of Twitter has its downfalls, namely due to the culture of destructive criticism and satire.

People on Twitter have the incessant ability to dissect and ridicule work, revealing the darker side of academic social media: unwarranted criticism. Reviewer two tends to be considered the harsher critic during peer reviews of academic articles, journals and books; however, in recent times, the Twitter reviewer has taken centre stage. Learning to deal with criticism is part of personal growth, but criticism on social media can be damaging to a person’s credibility as an academic. Occasionally, it is used as a tool to entice mass attacks against particular individuals.

Academics most at risk from criticism usually belong to LGBTQ+, BAME and working class communities. Such groups mentioned have limited representation in academia. As research from Vitae suggests, an overwhelming 83 per cent of postgraduate researchers are from white backgrounds, while 17 per cent are from various ethnic minority backgrounds. In such cases, criticism -unless warranted- mask greater prejudices within academic circles and society as a whole. This is not to say that such communities should be immune to healthy criticism, or that all criticism is based on prejudice, but the line remains very thin.

Criticism discrediting work is altogether rare but can be blown out of proportion, and discussed extensively for days on end. Some incidents have stretched insofar as institutions and departments being ridiculed on social media for awarding individuals with qualifications that are now at the end of criticism. With the availability of information on where academics are based, it is easy for those who disagree online to interfere with ‘real life’ opinions. In fact, widespread criticism online of institutions and former students and staff can impact the reputation and morale of departments who are left to deal with the consequences.  

Much of the behaviour exhibited by Twitter critics in the academic sphere fit with the archetype of those involved in fandom Twitter, where any criticism of a character or figure is turned into thread after thread of justification for the topic at hand, or further denunciation.

Academic Tweeters use similar coping strategies to those in fandom Twitter- resorting to the use of memes and common sayings to discourage criticism or support it. For instance, the Twitter account @yourpapersucks has a steady following of 53.3K people and carries the tagline ‘shit my reviewers say;’ it makes use of the relevant twitter trends, as many fandom twitter pages do. A recent tweet by the account, featuring the viral video of Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing as a college student was captioned: “I am very enthusiastic about the topic of the article and the applied research design to answer the research questions;” such tweets are intended to satirise and make light of the types of responses academics may receive during reviews.

In allowing your work and research interests to form part of your online identity, you become aware that you forge a space in academic Twitter. You are aware that your opinions will largely link back to the area you show interest in. You realise that academic Twitter is almost always politicised and opinionated, as much of academia is. This politicisation can often force accounts to bear the disclaimer that opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of employers. Twitter can be a volatile place, especially for academics from underrepresented backgrounds, which is why it is so important to deflect unwarranted criticism.

A Professor who dressed up as reviewer two for Halloween captures the feeling of fear and dread held by most academics towards the criticisms provided by reviewer two. However, with the rise of academic Twitter, the days of dreading reviewer two are diminishing and in its place, there is something far greater for academics to fear: the Twitter reviewer.