Social media for social change in science (and Science Magazine)

It’s no secret that I cherish my online communities. Being able to connect with people who share the same values as me, even if we are spread all over the world, has helped me grow and given me a sense of belonging in science. Before I found these like-minded individuals, I felt isolated and alone in a career that didn’t seem to have space for me. Being active on social media has led me to countless opportunities but it has also been a way for me to cultivate a community of supportive, empowering, and caring scientists — effectively creating space for myself and others like me.

Thus, it came as a shock when Science Magazine, one of the most prestigious scientific publications, published an opinion piece that not only dismissed the potential of social media for social change, but came off as a vindictive attack on Samantha Yammine. Sam, just a step ahead of me in our journeys to PhDs in neuroscience, took me under her wing when I attended my first Society for Neuroscience conference. She empowered me to embrace myself and my voice in both the neuroscience community and the online science communication community. She’s also a diligent scientist who generously shares tips, facts, and insights on her quickly-growing Instagram page in her free time. Tapping into insights gained from research done on social media engagement, Sam will take selfies of herself while doing or explaining science because research shows that photos of faces get the most engagement. Despite all of the effort she puts into sharing evidence-based information, she and other women who communicate science via social media were distorted into gendered symbols of frivolous vanity by the author of the op-ed published in Science. While the op-ed had very insightful points about the lack of recognition that women get for spending time on outreach and communications, there was no proposed solution, just a dismissal of the importance of the work.

After outcry from the very communities being misrepresented in the op-ed and our allies, Samantha was given an opportunity to respond. Together along with experts Dr. Paige Jarreau and Dr. Imogen Coe, we wrote a short evidence-based article on the potential for social media as a powerful tool in both science communication and driving social change.

Read the article here and stay tuned for a #ScientistsWhoSelfie study that Samantha and Paige worked on together along with other science communicators to gather data on how the public perceives scientists on social media.

Christine Liu