I have a confession …

“Autumn Stream” flickr photo by Angus Thermopylae https://flickr.com/photos/angusthermopylae/2318284799 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

A retweet dropped into my twitterstream the other day which immediately attracted my attention, headed as it was ‘Top 5 reasons to use Twitter.’ What were these reasons I of course wondered and what might they add to what I’ve already learned during my study? Now normally, at this point I’d embed the tweet for you to view before discussing how it had moved my learning forward, but not this time. Let me explain why.

The first thing to say is that the list wasn’t presented as a simple textual list, but in graphic format with the image embedded within the tweet. So where’s the image Ian you’ll be asking – well, hold on, I’m coming to that. The list items were the usual kinds of benefits people describe from participating in Twitter: connecting with others, sharing ideas, retrieving timely news, seeking information etc. These are the kinds of things folks regularly mention on Twitter and also aligns with what has emerged in the literature (Carpenter & Krutka, 2014; Davis, 2015; Holmes et al, 2013). What the tweet does then is provide a neat summary of what is already known, rather than adding anything new; nothing wrong with that.

The tweet proved quite popular, with 50+ RTs and a similar number of Likes. It clearly struck a chord. Given that the message wasn’t particularly sharing new knowledge, one assumes that the responses of those seeing the tweet were not seeking to make new information visible to those who they follow. What then? Liking and RTing behaviour is a complex issue I intend to unpick in a future post, although had a stab in an earlier one too, however, we can begin to offer a couple of possibilities. Perhaps it’s part of the process of saying ‘This is who I am. These are views with which I’m aligned. I think like this too.’ Or maybe it’s a way of saying to the author ‘Thanks for producing this; you’ve done a good job.’ It’s arguably less likely to be ‘Hey take a look at this amazing new thing I’ve found. You’ll enjoy it/find it useful.’ None of that’s a problem, so let me now return to the image.

I’ve not reposted the image, or embedded the tweet (which I could legitimately have done) because the image has a prominent copyright notice on it. That shouldn’t be a problem for me; if someone’s invested labour into producing an image, which they clearly have, then they are completely entitled to visibly stake their claim to it. So why do I feel slight queasy? Well firstly, the majority of people who circulate within the twitter I have assembled and which has assembled itself around me, are largely people who subscribe to the open agenda – opensource, openaccess etc. As such they mostly tend to share openly, often making their resources available through a Creative Commons licensing model and share their resources so others may use, adapt and share further. The copyright notice does something different and says you can’t use me … at least not without permission. So why the discomfort when I’ve already said I’m OK with that? It relates back to the preceding paragraph in which I described the Likes and RTs the tweet/image had attracted. The image says you can’t use me, and yet people are happy to be used; their labour has been employed, for free, by the tweet itself, with no recompense in the way that other authors often do. Sylvia Duckworth for example is well known for her Sketchnotes, which attract a lot of attention and also consequently a lot of labour from those who RT and Like her tweets:

But as Sylvia specifies on her site:

To see some of my sketchnotes, please visit my Flickr site. You are free to use them in any way, providing my name remains intact and you are not using them commercially.

Like the author of the tweet which prompted this post, Sylvia too is promoting herself, so RTs and Likes help to market her and the service she offers. The difference is that Sylvia is offering something back – you can use the image … which is of course for her, a win-win, since the image has her Twitter handle embedded within it. It’s in Sylvia’s interest to have her images shared as widely as possible, a trick the author of the original tweet, by copyrighting their image, has failed to capitalise on.

So what … have I learned?

I have a bias; one in which I’m more positively inclined to those who share openly. As a consequence I may be blinkered to some behaviours and occurrences which might inform my study. Or similarly, I may give more prominence to other events than they might deserve. But that’s OK within the context of my study in which I’m not claiming to be seeking the absolute, untainted truth; a truth which is ‘out there’ waiting to be found. My research accepts that I approach my research in a certain way and that I will produce a particular and partial reality. Bias, in this approach, is not to be eliminated or worked around, but to be acknowledged and brought out into the open, so that others can see the ways in which it might contribute to how I frame what I come to know.


Carpenter, J. P., & Krutka, D. G. (2014). How and why educators use twitter: A survey of the field. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(4), 414-434. doi:10.1080/15391523.2014.925701

Holmes, K., Preston, G., Shaw, K., & Buchanan, R. (2013). Follow me: Networked professional learning for teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(12), n12.

Davis, K. (2015). Teachers’ perceptions of twitter for professional development. Disability and Rehabilitation, 37(17), 1551-1558.

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