A new graduate student writes:
As an incoming grad student, and reader of your blog, I am cognizant of the generally harsh reality of the academic job market. In light of that, I obviously do not want to do anything that would lessen my chances on the market. I am wondering what the general consensus is -- if there is one -- regarding social media accounts and academic hiring. To use Twitter as an example, there does seem to be a benefit to having a public Twitter account in order to a) control your online presence (whatever that means), and b) participate in public conversations with the philosophical community. A positive instance of the latter that comes to mind is simply a public appeal for resources in a specific area (i.e. "Does anybody know of any articles discussing narrative identity and Nussbaum's capabilities?").
The concern, however, would be that any number of Twitter gaffes could lead to a negative perception of the job candidate by the hiring committee. A candidate might Tweet in support of an unpopular political movement, or express an opinion that they later come to regret, or indicate that they have questionable work/study habits. Ignoring the more obvious of the possible kinds of poor Twitter etiquette -- swearing, racism/sexism, illegal behavior -- is it better to just hide Twitter activity altogether? Or do hiring committees not even look at such things? I would hate to lose out on a great job opportunity because I wrote a tweet three years prior in support of an unpopular/divisive issue (i.e. for/against gay marriage, government surveillance, or a particular Presidential candidate). Still,neither do I like the idea of losing out on the sorts of personal/professional relationships that Twitter might help to foster by making my profile publicly accessible. Any guidance from you or your readers would be fantastic!
My own advice would be to steer clear of any public social media: the evidence is that first impressions are "sticky," and there is way too much risk that a bad first impression will be created by unfortunate or out-of-context remarks on social media, rather than a student's work.
I've opened this for comments from readers; graduate students may post without their name (but use a distinctive handle), but must include a valid e-mail address, which will not appear.
UPDATE: The responses on Twitter, or at least the few I've seen, inadvertently make the point about the potential for that medium, perhaps in particular, for embarrassment. One philosopher (who I shall not name, to protect the foolish) reads the preceding and then glosses it, bizarrely, as "Brian Leiter outs himself as a fan of cowardly conformity and surrender to group think, for others anywT telling.” Yes, my whole career has been about “cowardly conformity,” and that was precisely the question my student correspondent was asking: "Dear Prof Leiter, how can I be more cowardly and conformist?" Even more amusingly, someone who tweets pseudonymously (!) declares: “The discipline's archetype Socrates saw no qualms with being held accountable for his opinions and we commend him for it.” So why does this guy hide his identity? You decide. In any case, most commentators and correspondents understood that this was not about whether you should defend controversial views in your philosophical work, but whether you should risk making an ass of yourself in superficial ways on public social media...the way, say, the preceding tweeters have done.
AND FOR A DIFFERENT VIEW: This philosopher sings the praises of Twitter. (Thanks to Andy M. for the pointer.)
AND ONE MORE: Even famous faculty can go down in flames on Twitter!