At their core, social media platforms like Twitter serve as environments for creating and disseminating ideas and information through virtual microblogging communities. Apart from certain widgets and other selling points that individualize the multitude of different apps, each provides a baseline set of functions – e.g., a terminal to post original content and interact with other users. Yet, while the Twitter name itself was born from the idea that users would be able to distribute “a short burst of inconsequential information,” it is evident that America’s academic community has grown to view these platforms as an extension of the classroom – and this is especially true for law professors. From commenting on their expert perspectives on the latest decisions from the Supreme Court to giving us hope that the Mets won’t blow another pennant run (looking at you, @steve_vladeck), law professors have fully immersed themselves in the Twitterverse.
Yet, this raises a question: Which professors instigate the most public engagement? In short, who has the most clout online? While only a select few frequently find themselves in the public spotlight to offer critiques and other opinions on nationally syndicated television and radio, I was interested in observing how law professors promote their personal brands online.
Analyzing Law Professors on Twitter
I was able to retrieve data through the Twitter API v2 to provide insight into the social media presence of law professors across the United States. The Twitter API serves as a set of programmatic endpoints that allow users with granted developer permissions to access public metadata associated with accounts and their tweets. In essence, it serves as an intermediary tool to retrieve tweet and user-level data. I chose to observe the variation in user engagement among approximately 55,000 tweets posted between January 2021 and July 2022 from a sample of 191 prominent law professors across the United States. Through an analysis of their corresponding metadata, I provide a rank-ordering based on the average public engagement (i.e., the average volume of likes, retweets, quoted retweets, and replies) received by each professor, which was subsequently normalized to a common scale for ease of interpretation.
Contextualizing the Rankings
I will provide a complimentary analysis in the near future concerning the different factors mediating user engagement – e.g., ideology, contextual substance, and value tweeting (i.e., what a professor chooses to talk about), etc., in a future post. Before I provide some key takeaways and context concerning what the variables and rankings mean, I should first note what they do not:
What The Rankings Are NOT
- First and foremost, these rankings are not a political commentary, nor do they represent any underlying preferences or animosities towards any professor, institution, or organization. It is purely an empirical exercise – the numbers speak for themselves.
- This ranking does not consider any contextual substance found in the professors’ tweets – i.e., the scaled engagement metric used to frame the rankings does not consider whether a professor chooses to tweet sophisticated critiques of modern jurisprudence or their spins on recipes from the French Laundry Cookbook. It purely represents a rank ordering of professors reflective of the average public engagement with their posts, though ties are broken by preferencing which user(s) maintains a greater volume of followers.
A Few Notable Takeaways from the Rankings
- Perhaps the most immediate and notable finding from the rankings is that Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) soars above the pack. Though she cannot claim the largest volume of followers on the list – that honor is, perhaps unsurprisingly, found with former-Harvard professor Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) – Professor Alene’s average public engagement sets the standard.
- The volume of tweets posted on individual days within the observation period followed remarkably similar trends – indicating that certain events likely instigated professors to tweet heavily on the same days. As might be expected, the most common periods to observe high tweet volumes were May 2-5, 2022 – which corresponds with the infamous leak in Dobbs v. Jackson, and the period between June 24 and July 1, 2022 – corresponding with the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs and a host of other notable decisions. A future post will provide a broader discussion on the contextual substance of the tweets themselves, though it should be noted that Dobbs was among the most frequently discussed topics.
- While many of the conventional institutional heavyweights litter the top of the ranking (e.g., Harvard, Yale, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, UCLA, NYU, Georgetown, and Berkeley), there are some notable exceptions. Apart from Professor Alene (representing the second-place finisher in the 2022 College Football Playoffs), professors representing George Mason, Georgia State, Minnesota, George Washington (GW), Pepperdine, Yeshiva, and Michigan State (among others) round off the top of the list.
- Illustrating average user engagements by institution reinforces the prominence of many traditional heavyweights. Beyond Professor Alene’s lone presence at Alabama, much of the remaining prowess remains with the heavyweights. Some other notable exceptions emerge with Richard Painter at Minnesota (@RWPUSA), who is running for Congress, Brian Kalt at Michigan State, and the team of Anthony Michael Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) and Eric Segall (@espinsegall) at Georgia State.
- Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal), the former US Acting Solicitor General under President Obama and currently at Georgetown, lays claim to the tweet with the largest scaled engagement from the January 2021 to July 2022 observation period:
Jake S. Truscott is a PhD Candidate at the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA).