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January 27, 2015


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Sarah Burstein

Really interesting post. On the retweet issue, my understanding is that the retweet button/feature is relatively new; originally the manual retweet (copy/paste preceded by “RT”) was the only option. So only counting tweets including “RT” won't get them all. It might not even get most of them—manual retweeting is now considered, at least by some, to be bad Twitter etiquette:

William McGeveran

What Sarah said. I only do manual RT to add comment, but I probably auto-art several times a day.

Michael Risch

Thanks to you both for confirming my suspicion. It turns out the data above includes all auto-retweets, but there is a way to identify them. I'm going to take a second pass and present the results.


According to the data linked in a prior post, Lawrence Lessig (Harvard) has 324,336 followers (the next highest, in second place, is SportsLawGuy, with 33,728 followers).

The person coming at the rank of 1,000 on Twitter has 2,560,000 followers.

Daniel B. Rodriguez (Northwestern) (number one) has 193 law profs following.

The number following law profs is so infinitesimal that its insignificance can’t be measured. Yet, look at the amount of time that has been put into the effort that we see here and in prior posts to slice and dice and compare and analyze these paltry and really sort of embarrassingly miniscule stats.

This little group of law profs thus comes off as ever so self-important. Forget about the “ego” words; every drop of effort scrutinizing and ranking this de minimus twittering is an effort in self-aggrandizement and self-regard. Spending so much time paying attention, ranking each other and dwelling on every nuance of a self-imposed pecking order dominates so much of the discussion!

How could one fancy one’s self a “rock star” based on such obscurity? How can one be so deluded? Yet, we can just hear those words, can’t we? "Why, when it comes to Twitter, he is a ROCK STAR!"

Why fritter away so much time gazing the mirror and comparing oneself with others, in a seemingly vain quest for status and attention? Why do many law profs act like so many male turkeys, strutting around and showing off their fans?
This is so sad, folks. It all has a whiff of desperation. “Look at me! I want attention! And, status! And, recognition! Anyone? Anyone? Hear me, see me … ” Isn't there anything better to do?

By all means, of course, Twitter away. But why should we care to know, in such depth, about what 193 law profs occasionally post on Twitter? That is basically the size of a Homeowner's Association. PLEASE!

Not a word of this essay explains the reason anything said in these tweets matters to anyone.

Tweet away, happily, no one could say you shouldn’t. But, please, forego the endless RANKING and SHOWY CHARTS and STUDYING THE INSIGNICANT while PRETENDING THAT SUCH STUDY IS IMPORTANT, RELEVANT, USEFUL OR PRODUCTIVE! (“He is insignificant, and I am insignificant, but I am less insignificant than he is, thus, I am a veritable ‘ROCK STAR’”!)

Hint: perhaps a little less self-regard, and a little more humility would cultivate an open mind, and a professional attitude ready to act with vigor to reform the legal academic establishment, rather than one that craves attention and pretends to be famous. Or, stay glued to a smart phone like a teenager and follow your follower stats, creating ever more ridiculous ways to waste time while garnering attention.

Michael Risch

Wow, anon, you must either a) really hate law professors, and/or b) not understand how twitter works. The hate is evident, for example, by the focus followers rather than, say, the fact that a large chunk of users appear to use it for consumption. Or also the assumption that sharing links is somehow a "look at me, I want attention" gambit rather than a trading of information with others. Or maybe it's fudging the numbers, like focusing on Lessig's total follower's and then shifting to Rodriguez's law prof followers (which is over half of law profs using the site in the first place - I would say he's got the ear of the academy, at least the academy that's listening on twitter).

The lack of understanding is twitter is also evident. First, the average twitter user has averages 208 followers with a median of 1. That's right, 1. Half the people use the site for consumption. This implies that law professors are beating the average. But the real lack of understanding appears to be based on who is listening. Three examples. One, journalists follow me. I've had two of my tweets turn into news stories (on slow news days, I'll grant you), but that means that sharing of knowledge breaks the bounds of twitter, even with my measly 400 followers. Two, some followers have more followers. When they retweet to their followers, things spread. That's how the network works, for good or for bad. Three, sharing of information does not have to be heard everywhere to be heard. My articles cited by the Supreme Court have about 1000 downloads each on SSRN. Did the court find them there? I have no idea, but one extra avenue sure doesn't hurt, even if 1000 downloads is small in the scheme of things.

There is likely nothing I can say that will persuade you that sharing a link for others on twitter is about knowledge sharing and not about self-aggrandizement. I'm also not going to pretend that this study is important. After all, my law school house is burning down. But I've added knowledge to the world about how law professors tweet when people debate whether it is worthwhile, and that what scholarship is about.


Ahh. SO, we come to the prime justification: "knowledge generation."

But, this "knowledge generation" seems to so easily slip into a discussion about being cool and your accomplishments. YOu have reflexively slipped into boasting, combined with sarcasm, insults and speculation about emotions. This is in keeping with the observations about your first post in this series.

In between all that, we see that law profs on twitter are actually below average in nearly every respect when compared with the public at large. And, there is nothing wrong with pointing out that followers among the relevant group are below the average because you say you are using twitter numbers to "prove" (to use that word loosely) that someone "has got the ear of the academy." One suspected that was the point of all this.

Can't wait, now, to see what you think the "academy" is listening to.

My point is simply this. Law profs are constantly trying to be cool. Those who fancy themselves "rock stars" and "best athletes" (i.e., celebrities) evolve into an insular group. The efforts of this group often drift into protracted self examination and rankings that don't generate useful knowledge about anything.

Twittering is often (mainly) frittering away the time; studying twittering by law profs and pretending that study is ever so important seems a bit off. You say: "I've added knowledge to the world about how law professors tweet when people debate whether it is worthwhile, and that what scholarship is about." To the world? These posts are what scholarship is all about?

Again, a boast. But, again, I dissent.

Should law profs focus on their teaching and legal scholarship and let a quest for fame go? Yes. Is the sort of navel gazing exemplified by these first two posts (a series!) relevant? Probably marginally to some (albeit of great interest to anyone who feels validated), but nowhere near as important as you suggest, and, IMHO, your analysis really doesn't add much knowledge to the world about anything very important.

I'll keep reading, though, and hope that your next post (about content) will show that I am totally wrong, and that the content on Twitter truly is important.

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