Social media ‘civility’ and the attack of the flying sock monkeys

This morning on twitter I had an interesting interaction with Rebecca Schuman (better known as pankisseskafka) and Jonathan Goya (amongst others) regarding the recent spate of attacks on adjuncts who dare to speak out against the system and the “lifeboaters” (aka tenured faculty) who insist on maintaining the status quo, in spite of the fact that the so-called status quo has been in decline for the past 30 or so years. I won’t rehash the argument between Schuman and Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) since most of the 3 people who will read this will already be familiar with it.

The latest in the “but it’s always been this bad” saga comes at us from historiann, who wants us to come up with (or rather immediately assume without question her version of) a guiding set of principles for academic social media use.

For those of you who just can’t take another “telling you how to do this thing that you should as an intelligent, rational, well-educated person already be able to figure out how to do on your own” post, let me skip to the rules for you. They are directly quoted from the above link:

  1. The Golden Rule:  don’t publish anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

  2. Don’t make assumptions about the motives or personal experience that may inform the social media commentary of others.

  3. If you are the proprietor of a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, think before you write and edit before you publish.  Think again:  is my post or comment useful, necessary, or productive?

  4. If you are a commenter on someone else’s social media account or platform:  Consider the intended audience for a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, and be respectful of the proprietor’s online space and attention.

  5. If someone publishes a nasty or personal post or comment about you or something you’ve written, resist the urge to return the favor.  Read it two or three times to be sure you’re not overreacting or feeding a flamewar.  Consider ignoring it if it’s really inflammatory, but otherwise use your teaching skills to turn it around:  is there something in the comment of value you can address respectfully, thereby modeling the kind of conversation you’d like to be a part of?

I’m going to be honest here: these are not completely out of the question. As someone who recently (and perhaps stupidly) posted something vaguely anti-gun on my facebook, knowing full well I have gun-loving family members who have access to said facebook, I feel the sting of forgetting my audience. That said, I still believe that my posts were tasteful, respectable, and if anyone takes/took them personally, that’s on them, not me. I’d probably avoid the conversation in person, sure, but I don’t retract or feel remorse for what I said.

The problematic part, however, comes when historiann explains WHY she feels that these should be the rules the rest of us adopt. Again, quoting direct from the above link:

Here are my rationales for these principles, in seriatum:

  1. No one likes a jerk, and when you’re a jerk online, you are performing jerkiness before a potential audience of hundreds or thousands.
  2. You can always ask a blogger or Tweeter why they wrote what they wrote, or ask for further clarification before unloading on them.
  3. Since when is thinking a bad thing?  Aren’t we inteleckshuals?
  4. See rule #1, and remember:  don’t be a jerk.
  5. Let your productive, positive social media presence speak for itself.  If you lie down with the dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.

I personally take umbrage with her rationales, most particularly with #3, which is the one that launched me into the twitter conversation in the first place. You advocate for being less jerky, more civil, etc, and then remind me that I’m an “inteleckshual” and so I should think before I speak? Did you think before you wrote that? Because it would appear not.

Oh, but I’m calling you out on something you said, which apparently would not be civil. I mean, it’s right up there in rule number 5, right? If someone says something nasty on the internet, it’s on me to not respond to it. And yet right there, right in the middle of telling us all not to be jerks and how no one will like us if we are, you do the jerkiest thing of all. I pointed out this inherent oxymoron to Schuman and others:

to which Schuman replied:

Basically if we accept historiann’s new rules of social media use as “professionals”, then we’re over a barrel. We can’t say anything against the rules, as that would be jerk-ish and we can’t call her out for calling us idiots (because if you think calling us “inteleckshuals” is anything other than an insult, well, you’re in the wrong place, that’s for sure).

We also shouldn’t be bothered by the fact that tenured radical thinks (as she so clearly states in comments to historiann’s post on the new rules) that we’re just a bunch of whiny millennials that haven’t worked for anything we’ve got. I quote, from the comment section of the above linked post:

Tenured Radical on 30 Dec 2013 at 8:38 am #

Yep. I keep wondering also whether there isn’t something age related. The folks on the market now are the Millennials who never failed, never got below a B+, got prizes for everything they did. And one response to the terrible job market has been to add *more* prizes: you don’t see a job candidate who hasn’t won named fellowships in grad school, teaching prizes, and post-docs (intended to keep people going in a bad job market, but now just another prize.) There must be something genuinely confusing to many people who have, in fact, done everything right, and failed to win the big prize — or even, in a way, been given a yellow ticket to go to Hollywood at all. You can say a lot of things about Rebecca Schuman, I suppose, but unaccomplished she is not.


Anger is one way to project shame outward: another valuable lesson from years of psychotherapy.

Well, I guess I’m not supposed to respond to this attack on anyone (myself included) who came on to the job market in the last 5-10 years (which is a hella lot of people to lump together and insult in one fell swoop, I might add), but I can tell you that the person described above is not me. I have failed at things, I have been rejected for publication and conference presentations (only at the MLA… but that’s a whole other can of worms), I have, in fact, gotten lower than a B+ in classes in my chosen field. (Which, let’s face it, isn’t a big revelation to any search committee who requested my transcripts.) I didn’t choose the easy path, I chose the one that would push me harder, push me down even, and that I would love enough to get back up and push back against. I haven’t received every accolade in the book, which, given this comment, might appear to some as if though you might gain more respect for me. But in fact, because I didn’t get all those things, because I work hard to master my field instead of it just coming easily to me as you seem to imply it does or should, means that you will try to hold me down even more. In a world where everyone apparently just gets given whatever they want, even while you mock it, you will judge me harder for not getting it. Do you see the juxtapositions in your argument? Do you know how hypocritical you are being in this one, seemingly insignificant comment?

Do you know that the hordes of contingent #flyingsockmonkeys are coming at ya?

One thought on “Social media ‘civility’ and the attack of the flying sock monkeys

  1. Pingback: how to fight the power (and fix the system from within) | Erin A Cowling

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