25yearsedtech,  twitter

30 Years of Ed Tech – 2023: Twitter Diaspora

Since the 25 Years of Ed Tech book finished in 2018, I have been writing an annual addition at the end of the year. The reason I started the 25 Years series was to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of ALT. This year they are celebrating their 30th, so I’m writing this one early in honour of the ALT-C conference next week.

Digital diaspora is a term that has been used variously to describe diaspora from physical communities using the internet to stay connected and to describe black participation online. This Washington Post article uses the phrase to highlight how black communities that used Twitter effectively for coordinating protests and raising the profile of movements such as BLM are now seeking other platforms following Musk’s takeover and the rise of far right activity on Twitter.

It is part of a larger pattern facing many people with any form of online identity. In a previous post I commented how when you were setting up a research project, then creating an associated Twitter account met most of your networking needs. That is definitely no longer the case. In fact two days after writing that post I had direct experience of this when we held a meeting for the new phase of GO-GN. We were considering our social media choices, as we don’t have the capacity to be across all of them. I asked all of the team to choose two of the options we had listed. Twitter was not a winner amongst them.

This creates a problem of very fragmented audiences, dispersed across platforms such as LinkedIn, Mastodon, Threads, Substack, Discord, WhatsApp, Facebook, Slack, TikTok, etc on top of dedicated sites and forums. I know some people hope Threads (as the most likely contender) will replace Twitter and we can carry on as before. But I wonder if that time has passed. The “all life is here” appeal of Twitter suited a particular phase of the online cycle. I remember having Twitter meet-ups in the early days when the main topic of conversation was “hey, you’re on Twitter! Isn’t it cool?” As a greater proportion of the population moved on to social media of some form, the generic hangout lost its appeal and people moved to more specialised communities. Even without Musk speeding it along, we were heading this way anyway.

This follows a general trend with digitisation that we have witnessed in more traditional sectors. Television saw a splintering of audiences from the days when we only had four channels to almost infinite choice. Newspapers faced consumers creating their own media diet from Facebook, blogs, YouTube, newsletters, etc. Very quickly your music, TV, and news collection was unique. That is a fairly new phenomenon. For most of recent history you would be able to talk to a stranger and have a pretty good chance that they had lots of elements in common.

So it’s no surprise that social media should go the same way. What I find interesting is that we are now sufficiently into the digital, networked era of ed tech that we are seeing previous trends being revisited. In my book Twitter was 2009’s entry, and here we are in 2023 considering how it has morphed into something else.

I’m using Twitter as something of a shorthand here since it is the most apparent example of this trend, but it stands for more. Think of the tools students use, the sites they access, and the resources they investigate are quickly beyond anything an educator may prescribe. This is a function of abundance. Generally, I think this is a beneficial development (as I was proposing in terms of masculinity), but it presents some issues for education.

Even if we confine our concerns here to just the impact of Twitter diaspora it means we have to develop- some new practices. Many conferences use Twitter as their main amplification and connection method. Communities have grown up around Twitter hashtags (eg LTHEChat and PhDChat), academics and projects have built considerable networks and reputations over the years in that platform. They could do this because a sufficiently large chunk of the desired audience was on that platform. But now what? Do you replicate across the multiple platforms, switch to another, hang in there? Whatever you decide the days of the catch-all option are probably gone now and more specialised options await. Just when you thought you’d got the hang of it as well…

4 Comments

  • Alan Levine

    Happy 30th! Or sad one for the topic. I’m not hoping for a catch-all nor anything that might have the same conective oomph as the early and mid bird days.

    It’s not that it ever was a “town hall” or a place where everybody in education was, it just felt that way. Wow, an illusion. There was an interersting tidbit in he Tech Wont Save Us episode on the musked one– https://techwontsave.us/episode/166_elon_musk_is_destroying_twitter_w_matt_binder where they outlined that twitter’s total user base (200 million at best) was orders or magnitude against the big networks (FB, Instgram, YT billions and billions), but there was some kind of effect that celebriies had that made it seem bigger than it was.

    That does not explain why it felt and worked well in he day, but I’d guess there was some kind of network effect that that activity ad cross conections of educators might have made it feel more large than it was?

    But yes, a struggle for organizations and projects to find a place to not only be together, but also to create that effect that brought more adjacent educators in. If you do find that magic one, let us know 😉 Ask the dogs?

    • mweller

      That’s a very good point Alan. It was probably not as many people as we though, but higher ed was more represented than many sectors. Going back to email now seems like an exciting option. Hey, perhaps email will be technology next year 🙂

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