Paul L. Caron

Friday, January 12, 2018

Law Profs: Beware The Perils Of Twitter

Twitter, For Law Profs, Beware the Perils of Twitter:

Twitter was awash with law professors proffering legal opinions a year ago when activists sued President Donald Trump for alleged violations of the emoluments clause.

Not all those weighing in were constitutional law experts with a firm grasp on the somewhat obscure statute barring officials in the federal government from receiving gifts from foreign governments, however.

That’s a problem, according to Carissa Byrne Hessick, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and author of a new essay urging her colleagues to exercise caution on Twitter in order to protect their professional reputations and preserve the standing of the legal academy.

With more law professors using Twitter to weigh in on the issues of the day—and sometimes veering into the platform’s culture of snark and incivility—it’s time for law professors to have a conversation about how best to use the medium, Hessick argues in her draft article, Towards a Series of Academic Norms for #LawProf Twitter, which will appear in an upcoming edition of the Marquette Law Review.

Hessick’s essay has prompted a vigorous discussion among legal academics over the past two weeks surrounding the myriad benefits and pitfalls of Twitter. Tenure provides a great deal of cover for professors to tweet what they wish without jeopardizing their jobs, but their tweets can still impact how students and colleagues view them.

Twitter allows law professors to more easily engage with lawyers and others outside academia and quickly disseminate their ideas rather than publishing a law review article after months—if not years—of work, Hessick said. But the immediacy of a platform known for its “hot takes” and its tendency to amplify the most forceful tweets can be at odds with the professoriate’s mission of producing reasoned legal analysis and fostering civil debate.

“Twitter rewards people for responding quickly to issues, which is sort of the opposite of what professors do,” Hessick said in an interview. “Usually we don’t offer opinions on things until we’ve spent a really long time thinking about them, digging into them, and trying to consider the other side. Twitter also rewards a lack of nuance.”

Hessick suggests that law professors on Twitter should follow two general norms: Assume people believe you are an expert when tweeting about legal issues and make clear when you are out of your wheelhouse; and use Twitter to “promote informed discussion and reasoned debate,” while keeping a civil tone with those with whom you disagree. In short, curb the sarcasm and antagonism. ...

The current Twitter debate echoes the discussion law professors had 15 years ago about the value of blogging, said Richard Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law who has nearly 30,000 followers. “It seems to me to be a perennial question as to whether law professors, as law professors, should be using new media to communicate to new sets of people,” he said. “It’s not quite a new debate, its just shifted from one platform to another.”

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Of course, that depends upon how serious one's reputation was, to begin with.

Posted by: mike livingston | Jan 12, 2018 4:12:50 AM