Blog Post

Twitter-Journalism (Twittalism): What Are the Responsibilities of the Academic Live-Tweeter?

Should there be formal field-related requirements for tweeting?
What are the responsibilities of the live-tweeter?

As Twitter continues to grow as an outlet for scholars, students, research, and education, how do we teach ourselves and our students to become good readers of Tweets?

A colleague of mine,  Barry Peddycord III @isharacomix, yesterday tweeted "I wonder if I have any right to livetweet this because I'm pretty sure I don't understand all facets of the problem being presented. #dhday" while live-tweeting a #dh conference lecture and it gave me pause. Though it seems he was not formally asked to tweet, he chose to do so for his personal edification and for professional sharing. His question hits me as an interesting one. I have recently been live-tweeting a graduate seminar course (as a project investigating the Capital of a Tweet), as well as several lectures (often by request) and conferences (ThatCampTheory), and I've even live-tweeted with my class during class. I have felt a bit like a twitter journalist lately. @isharacomix's tweet made me wonder if perhaps the live-tweeter does indeed have a certain responsibility toward any or all of the following agents: 1) the twitter audience 2) the conference audience 3) him/herself 4) the conference organizers 5) the presenter.

I am also wondering if our tweeting practices should change when we live-tweet by request versus when we tweet otherwise. Should there be an ettiquette for Twitter-Journalism? There are plenty of posts out there (and in here in HASTAC) discussing the etiqutte of live-tweeting academic conferences but should we distinguish Twittalism from other forms of live-tweeting? Should Twittalism be credentialed?

When asked to 'cover' an event by the event's organizers, and when covering it without being officially asked, I deliberately ask presenters for permission to tweet. All have so far said yes. Several said 'yes, please'. One even arranged for live-tweets to pop up in the upper left corner of his presentation space (a risk, see #twittergate). Another asked that I tweet but that I omit a certain reference. Did I? Did others? Should my Twittalism practices change to suit these different situations? Should I tailor my Twittalism based on motive/purpose for tweeting? Should I tweet differently if the organizers ask me to tweet or the presenter asks me to tweet or a colleague asks me to tweet or I choose to tweet without prompting? I'd respectfully honor a "No, don't tweet" but would others?

Then we come to the question of archiving the tweets. When I am asked to live-tweet, I also then archive the conversation as many of us Twittalists do. The power of the curator is here in full force: I can choose what to add, what to omit, and how to arranage and frame the tweets in the (my?) archive. I can archive only my tweets or assemble all those that used the event's #hashtag. I can also take pains to catch those who tweeted the event but forgot to use the #hashtag and/or I can seek out RTs, MTs, and replies that may have gone under the radar. When live-tweeting for Twittalism purposes, I encourage the organizers of the event to announce the #hashtag and to announce that the tweets will be archived (often Storified) afterwards. Do all present tweeters understand then that their #hashtagged posts will be included in the unofficial official record of archived tweets? Are they comfortable with that? And what about the curated archive, what credibility can we give that archive? What value do either the tweets and/or the archive have to the researcher, #hashtag follower, student, and/or academic?

So then, returning back to @isharacomix's tweet, should the 'commissioned' live-tweeter (Twittalist) have a certain level of edification and fluency in any or all of these: 1) micro-broadcasting or 'twitter journalism' 2) the topic being discussed 3) the presenter's background, affiliations, and previous works 4) something else? And then, how do we evaluate tweeters and Twittalists? Twitter bios are as miniscule as are the tweets, how do we know if someone is a credible tweeter? (How do we know it is a human tweeter and not a bot?) Do we consider the number of Followers? or Perhaps we should consider not the quantity but the 'quality' of the followers?

As Twitter continues to grow as an outlet for scholars, students, research, and education, how do we teach ourselves and our students to become good readers of Tweets?

We might also discuss here Twitter citations and how we might teach our students to use them. I asked @isharacomix if I could quote his tweet (and he said yes) but in a recent TED talk, the presenter simply said "Recently, a wise media theorist Tweeted, "The 19th century culture was defined by the novel, the 20th century culture was defined by the cinema, and the culture of the 21st century will be defined by the interface." That seems woefully inadequate, no?



Amanda Starling Gould

Tweeting and performing Twittalism (or being a Twitterazi?) at @stargould



Thanks for the thoughtful post, Amanda! Let me provide some context and reflection from my experience from #dhday. Firstly, I started off with all the right ideas: I asked each of the speakers for their permission (and I also got the "yes please" response from all of them, which is a great thing to hear).

I call livetweeting "taking notes in public". I type faster than I write, and part of comprehension is being able to distill an entire talk into its key points. Twitter doesn't just encourage that, it enforces it, so it's a good medium for extracting this information. I don't live-tweet the classes I take, but as a mental exercise, I try to look for how I would condense key points into 140 characters when I'm taking notes.

Taking notes in public also serves a dual role of being able to bring my colleagues who can't attend the conferences I attend. As academics, we're all very busy. Despite not being able to attend Dr. Liu's talk on defining Digital Humanities or the myriad of THATCamps that are going on right now, my colleagues who livetweet, retweet, and storify these events gives me a window from which I can catch a glimpse into the conference.. and maybe even participate! It was awesome to see folks like @petradt and @chuckrybak following what I was saying because it felt like I was able to do some small service to my colleagues.

However, I am not a #dh person. When the speakers at #dhday were presenting the technology, I was looking at it like a Computer Scientist - I don't know the humanist workflow or use-cases. They make assumptions about their audience that don't apply to me. When the Dr. Mandell began her final talk, I genuinely thought I knew what was going on, but eventually realized that I was in way over my head. She thanked me saying that

When livetweeting, I don't just want to be a parrot, since a parrot indiscriminantely copies text without recognizing which parts are important and which parts aren't. I want to be able to identify the key ideas and articulate them concisely, because that helps me and my followers engage with the material much more efficiently. At a #python conference, I can do this, since I can speak with authority on the topic I'm hearing. At a #dh event, I reach a point where I start floundering around with no idea what I'm doing.

Am I doing my followers a disservice when I invite them to learn with me when I enter a strange and unfamiliar world? Or worse, does my taking notes in public constitute a record from which the speakers' intentions may be misunderstood? Right now, I'm a nobody Ph.D. student in CS... but what if I was a professor? Would people assign more trust to me than I deserve? These questions are the most worrying for me.

Sorry for the wall of text - looking forward to hearing what folks have to say about this. :)


Barry, thanks for sharing your experiences! I personally don't feel you need to censor your live-tweeting of a public talk just because it's outside the range of your expertise or discipline. Some of my best experiences on Twitter have come from me expressing confusion, then finding someone who can answer the question for me, or point me in the right direction. I've learned so much from the community I follow and participate in, far more I'm sure than they have from me. And I've definitely enjoyed learning alongside you on twitter, even (especially?) in moments of grad student-induced confusion!


Thank you for adding your thoughts, Barry and Whitney!


If I'm being honest, I find some of the live-tweet-fretting going around a bit sanctimonious. If someone is giving a talk that is open to the public, s/he shouldn't be surprised to find it live-tweeted. I understand (and occasionally feel) the terror of knowing that people whom you don't know, and who might not have been at a particular event, are talking about you in a public place; but that happens over the wine and cheese anyway. At least on Twitter it's in a (semi-)public forum where the speaker can address comments and concerns.

Live-tweeting a class or otherwise closed forum without permission seems a different beast to me -- like planting little microphones in the classroom and piping the conversation to the campus quad. I don't do it, and don't like to see it in my timeline -- not only because it's rude to other participants in the class (or meeting, or whatever), but because I frequently have no context for understanding what's being discussed. It's just noise. I should note that general comments seem fine ("Interesting that Topic X came up in class today.") -- but the specifics of live-tweeting ("Right now, student X is talking about her experiences") seem rude to both the in-person participants and one's followers.

While the issues of public vs. private are truly fascinating on twitter, I'm not sure we need some formalized permission-requesting structure for public talks -- just some common sense. The DH community on twitter is lively, and so far has been pretty good at policing itself, and responding to potential privacy infractions. 


Great thoughts here, Whitney. Thank you. I have noticed that as I gain more followers, I am becoming more aware of what I am tweeting and how often I am doing so. Not sure if that's a good thing or bad. But interesting to be sure.


Amanda, thanks for this second segment in your series of thoughtful Twitter posts.  I have also live-tweeted with a class, but of a much larger size (100+ students).  The experience in this context was quite different...more along the lines of a twitter experiment turned twitter exploit.   In light of this experience, I find the question of an ettiquet for Twitter-journalism to be not only extrememly relevant to the disucssion online collaboration in the classroom, but also necessary.  

As I teach writing for the Culture, Art and Technology program at UCSD, I am certainly a big advocate of experimenting with digital media and collaborative activities in the classroom.  Yet, I am as big of an advocate of critically assessing these experiments, and tweaking them to best fit the university environment (which arguably could use a little...all right a lot... of change).




Thanks for the thoughts, Tara!


Great comments with some great links to resources:

From @MiaZamoraPHD:@stargould @roykamada Great ?s A. - As profs we can help stdts 'come of age' w/an ethos of professional tweeting-will report my findings

From @roykamada:  @MiaZamoraPhD @stargould they could also use some help with the emailing…:) but yes to all forms of contextual literacy

From @dariodoubleL: @stargould Great blog on academic tweeting. You might be interested in this project

From @trentmkays: .@HASTAC @stargould There was a big issue about this 3 weeks ago. Did you follow #twittergate? I wrote about it here: