Kevin Milligan ~ Vancouver School of Economics ~ University of British Columbia

My Rules for Twitter


June 26, 2013

Below are my personal rules for twitter. I was motivated to write this after reading the rules for journalists suggested by Globe and Mail writer Steve Ladurantaye. As an academic rather than a journalist, my rules have some different flavours.

My rules also reflect my own personal experience, views, and goals. I started tweeting during the 'Census crisis' of 2010, and have continued in the three years since. I haven't always lived up to these standards, but I do aspire to. Other academics may have different experiences, views, and goals. I offer my 'rules' to promote some discussion and thought, not as commandments that must be observed.

  1. Develop clear goals and firm limits about what you are trying to accomplish with Twitter. Measure each tweet against these goals and limits.
  2. Prime goal: be an authoritative, fair-minded source on your areas of specialty. Be a scholar. That's why universities pay us; that's what we have to offer society.
  3. Personal / off topic tweets in moderation. I think people follow me to learn about economics, not to learn about my views on Mad Men, civil rights, my lunch, or my garden. A few personal / offtopic tweets in the mix now and then make your feed more human. But oversharing detracts from professionalism.
  4. Stay positive. Be polite. Address people as you would in person. Excessive snark is tiresome, and also corrosive to your professional reputation. If you have to preface a serious tweet with "Serious question:..." then you have a problem.
  5. Always remember that coauthors, colleagues, and administrators, are watching. Tenure committees are watching, too. They are thinking: "you could be doing something else right now."
  6. Don't start fights; don't engage those wanting to fight. There is no gain from winning the internet.
  7. Engage others--ask questions to enhance your knowledge or your research. Twitter has helped me improve my own work, as well as find many useful new resources.
  8. Block liberally. Life is too short to deal with trolls, baiting, and assorted negativity. Speech is free. Yelling in my ear is not.
  9. Take great care to respect the privacy of meetings. Know what is and should be in the public domain and what is not.
  10. Tweet links to source documents to help non-specialists find them. This is a great service.
  11. Academic freedom is wonderful. Unlike journalists (or pretty much anyone else), I am very unlikely to ever be fired because of an errant tweet. UBC has a strong policy backing speech that is "unpopular" or even "abhorrent". But UBC also wants me to ensure an "environment of tolerance and mutual respect that is free from harassment and discrimination". To me, this responsibility is a fair price for the wonderful freedom.
  12. Tweeting is, at best, unhelpful for your research reputation. Junior scholars should tweet sparingly. (See 5 above.) Tenure and promotion committees evaluate evidence on whether you will be a productive scholar for the rest of your tenured life. Too much Twitter is going to be interpreted as a bad signal of future productivity.
  13. Be sure of your facts. An incorrect fact can spread very quickly. Be authoritative. Don't guess. Look it up; tweet the source.
  14. You are always one tweet away from hurting not only your own reputation, but the reputation of your department and your university. Be careful.
  15. When (not if) you make a mistake, retract. Be humble, apologetic, and correct it as quickly and completely as you can.


kevin.milligan@ubc.ca ~ Home Page ~ Vancouver School of Economics ~ UBC