Social Media: Inventing Yourself Online

How long have you had an online life? Or do you eschew social media altogether?

I’ve been online for about 15 years now. I joined Facebook in 2008 when my grad students told me about it, as a way to casually stay in touch with friends online. I started blogging (with BlogSpot) in 2009, looking for a way to rediscover my joy of writing. I joined Twitter (still can’t call it X) in 2011 after reading an article in AGU’s EOS magazine about its benefits for scientists. I created a LinkedIn profile the same year, assuming that if I was going to be on Twitter I might as well join another online group with a different audience. Facebook was for personal stuff, Twitter was like chatting at the watercooler, and LinkedIn was more professionally oriented.

My Facebook community remained relatively small, just people I knew locally and some people from high school. But I slowly grew my Twitter community, at my highest point having over 6,000 followers and lots of interesting discussions with other Twitter users. Like my blog, which was largely focused on science topics, my Twitter feed was full of science and scientists. At the time I was an assistant professor in cold regions hydrology, and it made sense that I would surround myself with science. My LinkedIn profile was my professional presence, and I posted links to articles I ran across in my scientific research.

Then came my unceremonious exit from academia due to mental illness. This was an important juncture because I began to rely on my online community more than I had previously, as I didn’t go out much and couldn’t travel to conferences or meetings anymore.

To keep my finger in the science pie, I explored science communication – specifically science writing and editing. I began blogging about science-adjacent topics: science funding, women in science, science in politics, etc. I used Twitter to follow more science communicators and those who were studying science communication itself (the science of scicomm). I built up a network of science communicators, with whom I hosted workshops, helped organize conference sessions, and even co-authored a paper on scicomm best practices. I updated my LinkedIn profile to show that I was an editor and writer, but in the meantime lost a number of friends on Facebook, as I didn’t feel like sharing my personal life with everyone I knew there.

However, the longer I’ve been away from academia, the more I’ve gravitated towards literary writing rather than just science writing. My blog shifted from being science-based to cover more about writing, nature, mental health issues, and photography (and moved from BlogSpot to WordPress). Sometimes I still write about science, but as a writer. Playing with the words, adding metaphor and simile, a far cry from the almost encyclopaedic pieces I’d written in my early blogging days. I started to follow writers and editors on Twitter, my follow list growing to over a thousand people who were now a mix of scientists, science communicators, and writers. My feed is a mishmash of science, writing, and editing, and is getting a bit unruly.

Over on Facebook I joined several private writing groups – for book reviewers, science writers, memoirists, creative nonfiction writers, editors, and more. I let my LinkedIn profile lapse, as I didn’t think I had anything professional to share. I shuttered my blog in September 2021, feeling like I was running out of ideas of what to post. It wasn’t fun anymore, as I was madly dashing off blog posts the night before they were meant to be published. I wanted to focus on writing my book, and didn’t have time for both that and blogging.

Enter El*n M^sk. Suddenly Twitter wasn’t the great open forum it used to be. You had to pay to have a verified account. Right wing accounts that had been banned were permitted again. Users were limited to the number of tweets they could see in a day. Twitter was rebranded as X.

People left Twitter in droves, heading to established sites like LinkedIn, as well as new sites like Mastodon, Meta’s Threads (linked to Instagram), and a new social media platform called BlueSky. I brushed off my LinkedIn account and started posting more there. I tried Mastodon and couldn’t figure out how to connect with people as it was too siloed into different groups. I tried Threads but couldn’t figure out how to add people and didn’t want to follow all the people I follow on Instagram; though I liked their photos, that didn’t mean I wanted to read their thoughts. I found that BlueSky suited me best, as it was the most similar to Twitter and had a friendly vibe.

BlueSky has kickstarted my online transformation, as I’ve had to build my follow list from scratch. Instead of following only scientists like I did in 2011 when I first started Twitter, I follow writers. I follow editors of the New York Times book review and The Atlantic. I follow people who’ve published good books I’ve read and/or reviewed. I follow literary publicists who might be promoting good books that I could read and/or review. I also follow literary agents and acquisitions editors at publishing houses, seeing them as resources for the future. It’s still early days on BlueSky, but I’m reinventing my online presence, one follow at a time, into that of a writer.

I also revived my blog (obviously!) in September this year—exactly two years after I had shuttered it. Now I write four posts a month: one every Wednesday. Two are essays, one is a photo essay, and one is a book review. I feel more prepared on Tuesday nights—this post, for example, I’m writing a week ahead of time. I know everyone is into Substack newsletters these days, but you can sign up to receive my blog in your inbox, just like a newsletter but in slightly different format.

I’ve decided to use LinkedIn to host my science interests: wildfire, glaciers, water, and women in science. Recently I’ve shared posts about the decline of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, women being pushed out of science, and saltwater intrusion into drinking water along the Mississippi. Twitter will continue to be my mashup feed full of writers, scientists, and science communicators, though I’m not sure how long I’ll stay there. I mostly share quotes from interesting books and articles on BlueSky, which is where my writing life resides, just like the Facebook groups I’m part of.

It sounds like a lot, but it keeps me engaged in ideas and everyday news, plus recommendations for articles and books that I might be interested in. I appreciate reading different perspectives on key issues, and learning about different ways of being in the world that I might not run across otherwise. I balance my social media diet with news from The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the CBC.

What does your online footprint look like? Are you migrating to platforms other than Twitter? What are your thoughts on LinkedIn? Do you have a different focus depending on which platform you’re using? Do you even use social media at all? Let me know in the comments!

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