Next week, invited by @nvondarza, I’ll be speaking about “Europe in Blogs and Social Networks” (PDF, in German) with students of the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder – that’s the Frankfurt at the German-Polish border, not the ECB-Frankfurt.
I ask this question because I think that there’s the risk to overestimate as well as to underestimate the importance and relevance of social media in an EU politics context, and I kind of want to show both sides before discussing with audience.
Just some examples I’m thinking of from a political scientist’s perspective:
- Following social media on EU affairs makes you aware of a lot of discussions on the EU level, things you may not even have heard about without social media. However, what’s this worth when you can’t follow substantive debates that really matter because they are not on social media or not even accessible at all?
- Communicating with the EU crowd gives you an access point to interact with EU officials, for example asking questions on Twitter that may be answered within a short time or discuss with EU official on your blog. However, what’s this worth when requests for documents you need for you research take months?
- Writing a blog has given me access to the “behind the scenes” of two EU Council meetings, invaluable insights especially to understand how news are produced from these meetings. However, what’s this worth if such access is only given to a small group of people?
- Using social media actively and passively makes you part of EU debates and developments you otherwise wouldn’t be a part of as an academic. It may make you test your academic methods publicly and see the results debated elsewhere. Through blogging, you may present research of fellow academics, thereby making it available to a wider (EU) public. However, how far do you actually reach with what you write about, how far does this really matter or input relevant debates. In particular, how far does it make your academic work and research better?
These are just some questions that come to my mind when thinking about why EU-focussed academics should or should not consider active and passive social media usage.
What is without doubt is that social media challenge EU-focused political scientists as much as they challenge many other professions today. If we as academics don’t make use of social media as another way of perceiving reality and communicating knowledge, we risk to miss important developments as we risk that our work does not find its way back into public life where it belongs.
For the former, following social media channels of well-informed insiders and commentators may be as important as following EU officials, politicians, lobbyists etc. who have something to say that matters to us both as generalists but also with regard to our specific research focus.
And by using social media to communicate, we notice if and how the things we research on and write about are perceived. We can better understand why and how some topics matter to what audience(s). And we may also learn why a search engine algorithm impacts the work of academics in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, whether EU-focussed or not…