Digital Labor, Emotional Labor, Academic Labor: Developing a Professional Ethics for Social Media

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 2:30 PM
Empire Ballroom East (Sheraton New York)
Cait Stevenson, Medieval Studies Research Blog and University of Notre Dame
In depth, comprehensive, up to date—and anonymous, uncompensated, and representing the entire discipline of history. Social media-based public outreach risks devolving into an academic version of digital labor: necessary for CVs, but with no credit for success, only metrics for failure. Or does that make digital labor a form of academic labor?

In light of my experience balancing graduate school and AskHistorians, this paper uses the concepts of emotional labor and digital labor to reflect the cultures of professional history and social media outreach onto one another. I argue that the time to develop a professional ethics for social media is now. The tasks we face are daunting. Eight years of data from AskHistorians along with insight from our professor, postdoc, and graduate student participants point to a way forward on some of the thorniest but most pressing challenges. We must determine what historical writing is “good enough” outside the context of peer review and the ephemerality of conferences. We need to develop support systems not just for big media splashes but the day-in, day-out grind of anonymous threats and people who feel entitled to historians’ labor—immediately and in exactly the form they want. We need to make public outreach a viable option for all scholars, including working class professionals and single parents who cannot afford to work “for the CV.” The successes—and failures—of AskHistorians sketch out the contours of a professional ethics that will protect and promote both historians and the discipline of history.

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