What, if anything, should philosophers do on Twitter? The Blog of the APA has an interesting interview with longtime Twitterphile Kelly Truelove (@TrueSciPhi), who, among other things, keeps statistics on philosophers and their followers on Twitter, and he addresses this question.
One thing that jumps out upon scrolling through it is the frequency with which tweets include very brief commentary or quotes along with links to articles, blog posts, and other sorts of content outside Twitter. Twitter’s 140-character limit constrains the medium’s capacity for self-contained philosophical discussions, but the humble link provides a way out of that box and opens up a very different mode of usage. This mode is about directing followers’ attention to content elsewhere, whether it is the work of the tweeting user or third-party content they find deserving of comment, be it positive or negative. Twitter can be a useful medium for philosophers and philosophizing in that it provides a means to publish a stream that consolidates briefly annotated references both to their own work and to items they find noteworthy. Twitter can become a central point of reference, lightweight and easy to maintain, for others to follow a philosopher’s work and see online content through the philosopher’s personal filter.
Truelove has an aggregated live stream of the tweets of philosophers who have more than 1,000 Twitter followers, which he suggests is a good place for the Twitter newbie to start. Or you can check out his various lists, including this one of philosophers ranked by the percentage of other philosophers on Twitter that they have as followers.
How popular is philosophy on Twitter? Truelove says:
Together, the 334 philosophers on my list have 2.2 million followers, a number that surely includes many duplicates, abandoned accounts, and artificial “spam” accounts. For comparison, there are more than 1,000 accounts on Twitter that each have over 3 million followers, and Twitter claims to have 310 million monthly active users. Even with the substantial public engagement of de Botton and Dennett through their popular books and appearances in other media and forums, neither is close to being a major personality on Twitter. These figures are reflective of the relatively small size of the philosopher-interested slice of the overall Twitter pie. It is small even after being fairly inclusive, as my list is, in the definition of “philosopher.” That said, there is an audience on Twitter, probably somewhat larger, interested in philosophy in general, particularly in the forms of quotes from past philosophers and philosopher-related parodies. Accounts offering such content can gain hundreds of thousands of followers each.
Truelove suggests that philosophers take a look at Snapchat, too:
philosophers wishing to blaze a trail in a rapidly growing and changing social medium might consider Snapchat, which at present seems only slightly less suited for philosophy than Twitter did in its early days.
If you have thoughts on how philosophers could make better use of Twitter, examples of worthwhile exchanges, neglected Twitterers you think we shouldn’t miss, or ideas for how philosophers should make use of Snapchat, please share them in the comments.
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