News Release

*Free* Special Issue: Science in the age of social media

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

In this special Issue of Science, a Perspective, Policy Forum, Editorial and series of NextGen Voices Letters explore the current state of science in the age of social media. In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted the visibility and engagement of scientists on many online social media platforms, particularly Twitter. In an Editorial, Science Editor-in-Chief Holden Thorp asks whether this new-found spotlight on scientists and their work has been good or bad for science. His answer – both. He acknowledges social media as an important platform on which scientists can work out scientific questions quickly and transparently, but concedes this also allows forces devoted to undermining science to access normal debates, to exploit them. (Note: Thorp will address this and related issues in a plenary debate at the upcoming AAAS Annual Meeting.)

In a Perspective, Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele highlight the ongoing challenge of communicating science online. According to Brossard and Scheufele, most scientists and science communicators have not yet truly adapted to new online platforms. What’s more, scientists who do come online are up against a major obstacle: information on these platforms is curated and prioritized algorithmically. The microtargeted information exchanges that dominate the current social media landscape as a result have created echo chambers that are increasingly growing apart, resulting in science-centric bubbles. “At present there is little that science can do to escape this dilemma. The same profit driven algorithmic tools that bring science friendly and curious followers to scientists’ twitter feeds and YouTube channels will increasingly disconnect scientists from the audiences that they need to connect with most urgently,” write the authors. “Moving forward, conquering this challenge will require partnerships among the scientific community, social media platforms, and democratic institutions,” they say.

A Policy forum by Brandie Nonnecke and Camille Carlton highlights new legislation that seeks to make the data from online social media platforms more available to researchers. The vast amount of data compiled by social media companies worldwide could foster important research with great societal benefits. However, the companies involved have few legal obligations and incentives share. To address this, both the United States and European Union seek to pass legislation to open up online platform data for independent research and oversight. Here, Nonnecke and Carlton discuss the constraints that need to be addressed in order to facilitate beneficial research, including decisions as to who has access to the data, a lack of investment in research infrastructure, and the limited guidance on how and what data should be made available.

Finally in this special issue, in a series of NextGen Voices Letters – published in the form of tweets – a group of young scientists explain their perspectives on whether social media is good or evil when it comes to science communication. While some highlight the myriad benefits they’ve experienced communicating their work online, others offer alternative, cautionary tales.

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