Eric Posner Thinks It’s a “Serious Mistake” for Law Professors to Use TwitterSeptember 16th, 2020 · 25 comments
Eric Posner is arguably one of the most influential and prolific law professors in the country at the moment. Which is why I paid attention when around the 39 minute mark of a recent interview, Posner was asked his thoughts on law professors using Twitter.
“I’ve thought about this a lot because it now seems like every law professor wants to have this public presence,” Posner replied. “And I increasingly think this is a serious mistake.”
As he elaborates, becoming a “good” academic who is “serious” about research is a hard job:
“It requires a huge amount of work, especially at the beginning, to absorb the literature, to absorb the norms…I think a lot of junior people who are on Twitter…should be educating themselves.”
As he then clarifies, most of what transpires on Twitter is people “ranting” and reading other peoples’ “rants.” Participating in that culture, he says, doesn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the public debate.
The interviewer then presents Posner with another standard argument for why academics should engage with social media: it’s a way to “establish prominence in a field or establish name recognition.”
Posner doesn’t buy it:
“They’re wrong. You see. It’s a classic mistake. They don’t realize that everyone else is thinking that as well…you think you’re going to get name recognition, and you’ll get known, because you’re sending out these really clever and incisive tweets that are going to get the attention of the world. But you’ve forgotten that a thousand other people are doing exactly the same thing.”
As Posner elaborates with acid precision, his experience with Twitter taught him that what it’s really good at is “tricking” you into thinking that “the whole world is waiting for you to pronounce on some important issue.” This sense of importance is intoxicating. But as he argues, with the exception of a very small number of outliers, the audience for most users doesn’t extend far beyond bots and some friends.
Even I don’t fully escape Posner’s derision, as he also briefly mentions blog posting as a similar waste of time. (The irony!) But I think it’s his take on Twitter that rings particularly true. I wrote some about this “illusion of influence” concept in Deep Work. These services don’t hook you because they’re interesting; they hook you because they make you feel like you’re interesting.
Which is all well and good, until you look up five years later at your tenure review and lament about all the high impact papers you could have written instead.