Do Tweets Have a Place in Academic Papers?
Abdul Qowi Bastian
The first time I wanted to cite a tweet was when I was writing a paper on the advance of technology’s role in journalism. That was two years ago, when Twitter was still seen as a new, acceptable tool to disseminate information.
Yet, after some considerations, I left tweets out of my paper. I thought, Twitter was not really a source you could cite in an academic paper. It was not as valid as newspaper opinion, not even as verifiable as a personal blog.
The second time I wanted to cite a tweet was when I was writing a paper on Indonesian minority groups — the LGBT communities. It was only months after the initial compulsion.
At that time, I saw a number of prominent figures like poet Goenawan Mohammad, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Tifatul Sembiring and news anchor Desi Anwar jump on the bandwagon, voicing their concerns on Twitter — opinions that weren’t available in major newspapers.
Writing guides do not give specific instruction on how to cite a tweet. In my time, I have heard fellow classmates asking lecturers and tutors, “How do we cite tweets? Are we allowed to do that?” The answer to the latter is: yes, we are.
Over the past few years, we have seen (or read) news break on Twitter. As a platform for breaking news, academia is seeing the growing significance of Twitter — in addition to the aforementioned reason that citable opinions by influential figures aren’t printed elsewhere.
How else could I show Tifatul’s discourteous remarks on AIDS patients on paper if not from Twitter? Via his personal account, @tifsembiring, Tifatul said that AIDS stands for “akibat itunya ditaruh sembarangan” (“caused by the reckless use of one’s genitalia”). To which Desi Anwar (@desianwar) replied, “Dear Mr. @tifsembiring, listen to me. If you cannot tweet properly and correctly, you’d better stay silent.”
In 2009, the American Psychological Association suggested how to cite tweets in the blog section of its Web site. But that is a mere suggestion, not a firm guideline. I — and millions of other university students — have had to guess the proper citation for tweets in academic papers.
In a sign of the times, the Modern Language Association, one of three major style sources for academic writing, released formal guidelines on how to cite tweets last week. The MLA has come to the realization that original sources may come from Twitter updates and therefore has devised a standard rule for properly citing a tweet in academic papers. The form is as follow:
Last Name, First Name (User Name).
“The tweet in its entirety.” Date, Time. Tweet.
Anwar, Desi (desianwar). “Dear Mr. @tifsembiring, listen to me. If you cannot tweet properly and correctly, you’d better stay silent.” September 29, 2010, 9:30 p.m. Tweet.
It’s simple. Its simplicity, however, raises further concerns. Twitter is a Web-based social network, hence I’m intrigued as to why no URL is required, especially given the difficulty of Twitter searches and ubiquitous tweets. Anybody can tweet hundreds of times a day. Like most Web-based sources in academic sources, to require a URL is of utmost importance. It allows researchers to trace back to the original source.
And how do you look up tweets if the user changes his or her username? How do you cite tweet with #hashtags? Obviously the MLA rules for citing tweets in academic papers still leaves potholes here and there.
While it is about time that academia catches up with social media — where knowledge is shared these days — it is noteworthy that Twitter cannot replace the classic method of reading scientific literature. It has not, nor will it.
Have you ever cited tweets? Can citing a tweet in an academic paper be taken seriously? What do you think?