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Should they instead protect their tweets and Facebook posts and keep them private / Friends-only in their account settings?

Some profs' tweets / Facebook posts are great and inform the public of their new research, especially stuff in machine learning / data science, while other profs I have seen use much of their tweets and Facebook posts to rant about politics, e.g. rants about Donald Trump. It seems dangerous for a professor to have all of his political feelings posted publicly on Twitter / Facebook.

  • I assume that the answer will strongly depend on the institution(s) in which the professor wants to make a career. Some have an atmosphere that supports discourse and the idea of a "marketplace of opinions", whereas others like to play it safe. – lighthouse keeper Jul 30 '17 at 18:02
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    I think this question is too broad. There is no general answer. If you only post research results, there is little room for mistakes. If you post about politics there surely is. If you rant about your wifes or colleagues behavior you will definitely face some backslash. So the question should rather be "What things should a professor not share on social media to avoid any harm to his carreer?" – problemofficer Jul 30 '17 at 18:51
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Unless someone has done some quantitative or qualitative research, I think this will be very hard to verify either way. There are certainly professors that are famous and have very vocal political opinions, such as Noam Chomsky, and many philosophers. However, it is hard to verify whether: their opinions help their career, their career helps people accept their opinions more readily, or whether their career could have gone even further without their opinions.

One thing to note, however, is that it used to be many philosophers seemed to take it as a duty to give public talks and so on, on politics (e.g., Bertrand Russell), and perhaps other academics did too. So although we probably cannot give an empirical answer right now, it does seem that in many cases social media is merely an extension of professor's work, even if they are giving thoughts on areas they do not research, as thinkers they may have a duty to contribute informed opinions based on their training.

5

As has already been written, without research, there's no solid answer. However, I can tell you that the potential for harm is far greater than the potential for good.

Put your research on your institutional page and keep your politics to yourself. Use tools like FB to communicate with friends and family. Even then stay at a level of material that you do not mind being public because you never know what will be shared.

When you are sufficiently famous that you are sought after for interviews, then you can consider making the interview material public.

I explicitly do not allow students to "friend" me. My syllabus includes, Please do not ask me to join your social network on Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. until after you have graduated, and then only if you earned grades of B or better in each of my classes. Only the best students, with whom I am happy to be friends, follow up after graduation.

2

My amateur observation is that the most successful people tend to not be on Facebook. As one example, while there is a Facebook page and a website for Noam Chomsky, my understanding is that they are run by other people and he doesn't interact there in any way. E.g., from the website:

Again, please note that the website administrator is not Noam Chomsky, and he cannot arrange interviews, or put you in contact with Noam Chomsky.

And further:

Also, please note, Professor Chomsky is not on Twitter. Any accounts using his name are unauthorized.

The one piece of research that comes to mind is that people who use Facebook are generally less happy after their use of it. From NPR:

A new University of Michigan study on college-aged adults finds that the more they used Facebook, the worse they felt. The study, published in the journal PLOS One, found Facebook use led to declines in moment-to-moment happiness and overall life satisfaction.

I would argue that Facebook/Twitter and other social media are not like public talks where an expert has the floor for an extended period of time. They are (as the name indicates) structured to be a catalyst for ongoing back-and-forth with a multitude of people who may or may not have anything actually productive to say. In fact, we might speculate: Those with the fewest accomplishments/insights may have the most time and interest to repeatedly post, argue, troll, etc. It would make sense to me that if Facebook use makes a person sadder and more depressed, then that would detract from their academic productivity.

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    -1 for using Noam Chomsky as an example. Chomsky made his most successful contributions decades before Mark Zuckerberg was born. – lighthouse keeper Jul 30 '17 at 18:06
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    @lighthousekeeper: I felt it was useful as a counterpoint to the currently most-upvoted answer, which uses him as an example. – Daniel R. Collins Jul 31 '17 at 2:06
2

Social media is a tool

Social media can be a useful (and free) tool for getting some exposure for your work and connecting with other academics around the globe. Depending on the size of your network you might catch the eye of a journalist looking for the latest news out of science/art/technology, or a potential collaborator from another institution.

However, like any tool, if you use it wrong it can cause you harm.

Use the tool properly

The general advice that I have heard is never post something online if you would be worried about your current/future employer (or students!) seeing it. If you live in a liberal democracy I would hope that criticizing your political figures is not "dangerous". Whether it can harm your career depends on the nature of the people in charge of making decisions about tenure and/or funding. As long as you air your criticisms or observations in a respectful and thoughtful manner I can't imagine it causing a problem with the people who make those decisions. That would require an uncommon level of vindictiveness.

If you're still concerned

However, if you feel that you absolutely need to be a part of the current political/pop-culture/what-have-you discourse and you don't want to worry about maintaining a professional online presence at all times, my recommendation is to run separate feeds for business and personal stuff. Just like how you shouldn't use the same email for work life and personal life, you shouldn't use the same social media accounts for work and personal life. You can easily create multiple accounts: one under your real name for forming professional connections and getting exposure for your work; and one under a pseudonym where you can lambaste public figures to your heart's content.

1

There is a very simple test that can help you to determine whether a political post is appropriate for public display. Imagine that the text you are about to post is not political but religious. Replace names of political figures by the names of Jesus or Allah or something like that. If it still doesn't make you cringe then you can post your political text without doubt.

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