On June 30th, 2010, World Social Media Day was created to bring people together and recognize the impact that social media has on communication globally. What started as a communication method for friends and families is now an integral tool for news, discussion, professional connections, and marketing.
In its short life, social media has redefined how we interact and communicate with one another. People have flocked to social media ever since the beginning of MySpace in 2003. However, it’s no secret that the pandemic accelerated social media usage, acceptance, visibility, and engagement. For many of us, it’s a great way to keep up with family, connect with friends, and, well, be social. But with more conversations happening online than ever, the question is, how does the scientific community fit into this ever-changing virtual world?
Earlier this year, an opinion piece published in Science criticized scientists who use Instagram as a tool for science outreach.1 The author argued that “time spent on Instagram is time away from research” and specifically called out female scientists for snapping selfies instead of proposing policy changes to battle the systemic issues of marginalization in STEM fields.
The piece received a significant amount of backlash from a community of social media-savvy scientists. The community commonly referred to as “Science Twitter” is active in using the social media platform as a novel way to humanize science and engage with science-curious followers. Likewise, Instagram provides snapshots into the diverse lives of scientists who feel free to offer their own personal perspectives rather than acting as a representative of their institutions. These growing communities also challenge the stereotypical image of scientists as white men wearing lab coats. Furthermore, the digital presence of scientists and science communicators continues to be fueled by trending hashtags like #actuallivingscientist, #stillascientist, and #scientistswhoselfie.
AAAS included a session on social media at the 2015 annual meeting. The #AACR15 stream was so busy, by the time I finished reading a tweet that piqued my interest, it had almost scrolled off the bottom of my feed–a bit like an agarose gel that was running too fast. Scientists are connecting with other scientists on forums like reddit to discuss cloning strategies and transfection issues, and the Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI) is running a huge campaign to educate life scientists about cell line authentication (#authenticate) through social media.
Social media have decidedly entered the science mainstream with attendees at meetings posting to twitter and Facebook from their Instagram accounts, societies setting up multiple hastags for meetings and popular sessions, and journals tracking not just the “old-fashioned” Impact Factor, but rather social media shares, comments, retweets and likes of articles. Increasingly social media are the impact factors in science communication.
Live tweeting at meetings is rapidly becoming a way that hot topics are being disseminated far beyond the limited reach of the presentation room at the conference center, and PLOS One recently published an article by Ekins and Perlstein that provides guidance to meeting organizers and attendees for live tweeting events. The article talks about what a hashtag is and how it is used. It is great for novices or experienced social media users who might have missed that one particular twitter abbreviation, but the authors go beyond the technical aspects of tweeting to discuss the promise and potential of reaching a global audience with the leading edge science that is presented at scientific conferences and the richness that can be gained by bringing more people into the discussion.
Have you ever “live tweeted” a talk or event or followed a live tweet stream? Do you have a favorite scientist “live tweeter” that you follow? Let us know in the comment section below. How are you, as a scientist, using social media?
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