Social Networks: are they a threat or an opportunity for science?

by Eunice Oliveira, Communications Manager at Communication Service (SCOM)

 

According to the last digital trends report, which was disclosed earlier this year (The global state of digital in 2018 | Hootsuite), eight out of the ten million Portuguese people have access to Internet and 6.7 million are actively present on social networks. Every citizen spends an average of six and half hours a day on the Internet, in which a third of the time is spent on social networks. Each of us also has an average of 8.5 active accounts on social platforms.

The report is extensive, I could go on with the numbers (for the curious, here is the report https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2019-portugal). However, the data that I’ve already presented is enough to raise the question: if social networks are widespread and democratised, and their access is free from (almost) anywhere in the world, why don’t we use them to communicate science, thus increasing awareness and scientific literacy (and enhancing a number of opportunities coming from that)?

The most sceptical will argue that “social media” are a vehicle for counterintelligence or for the dissemination of fake news, a threat to privacy or even to democracy. No one has forgotten about the Facebook scandals with Cambridge Analytica or the use of social networks as a vehicle for manipulation in political campaigns.

However, at any time since Gutemberg invented the press, there has been credibility crises or manipulation of the existing information channels, right? See the examples of Yellow Journalism in the early 20th century in the United States, or propaganda in totalitarian regimes before and during World War II!

Recent scandals may have undermined social networks’ reliability, but it is up to each one of us, its users, to ensure the veracity and credibility of what is published, to use and misuse of accuracy, which is so characteristic of the scientific method, in order to promote science. And also to have a critical spirit in order to not accept any truth as irrefutable, without checking the facts and without searching for the controversial point.

Because, despite all that can be argued for and against, social networks continue to be a medium to reach an extremely wide yet specific audience, maximising the impact and exploitation of research results. It is possible, through messages directed to selected audiences, to open the way for countless opportunities: collaborations in projects, business partnerships, funding, attraction of human resources, etc.

You just have to choose the medium and to adapt the message. Disclosing information about what you do at your workplace in these platforms is within everybody’s reach. Obviously, as long as you maintain an ethical and moral conduct, as well as a language code that is suitable for the institution, because a social network is not only a personal tool, but is also in the public domain.

These and other subjects will be discussed in the session entitled “Does Facebook has science?”, which will be held on 16 July at 10:00 a.m. in Auditorium B. In this training session, some tips will be given in order to raise the visibility of your projects on social networks and to further benefit from the social networks, aiming at impacting your personal brand and your career path. Can I count on you? Registrations available on Intranet (for INESC TEC’s collaborators only).

 

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