The Twitter crisis is worrying. The bluebird company split from half of its 7,500 employees and several hundred others slammed the door, raising concerns about the network’s ability to keep going. The unpredictability of its new boss Elon Musk also raises concerns about measures that will fundamentally change the essence of the platform. However, since the Covid-19 pandemic, many medical experts have turned Twitter into a real tool for getting information, sharing their research results, exchanging public health messages, or even building working relationships with colleagues. “I think the pandemic has really been a game changer in the use of social media as a resource for researchers,” Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba, Canada, told AFP.
The international cooperation
In January 2020, Covid-19 spread around the world like wildfire. Research is being done everywhere to understand how the virus spreads and how best to protect yourself from it. They are tweeting at full speed to answer the concerns of medical professionals and the general public. It’s an explosion of “preprints,” the first version of a scientific study before it’s peer-reviewed and published in a recognized journal. “In the midst of a pandemic, the ability to quickly share information is critical to spreading knowledge, and Twitter allows you to do this in a way that can’t be done with “specialist” magazines,” emphasized an April 2020 commentary published in the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine.
The validation process takes place virtually live on Twitter, with scientists publicly sharing their interpretations and critiques of each new study. Of course, sometimes with the opposite effect: some works are given attention they do not deserve, and researchers speak out on subjects far from their area of knowledge.
“We will find other platforms”
Thanks to Twitter, many experts have also started working together remotely. “There are people I work with now through relationships that started on Twitter. The thought that this could change in the near future is both worrying and regrettable,” said Jason Kindrachuk, 22,000 subscriber who works with Ebola in Africa in particular. In addition to purely research activities, the social network also plays an important role in communicating with politicians and the general public. At the time of the Omicron variant in late 2021, “this information was publicly circulated via Twitter by our South African and Botswana counterparts,” Jason Kindrachuk emphasizes, “enabling many countries to start preparing.”
The influence is all the greater because Twitter has long been actively visited by another professional organization: journalists. “Because Twitter is a platform much loved by journalists, it helps” amplify the message, which is then likely to make its way to mainstream media, says Celine Gunder, an infectious disease specialist with 88,000 followers. Faced with worries about the future of Mr. Musk’s network, she explained to AFP that she had moved a private conversation with a dozen colleagues to Signal messaging and restarted her posts on the professional network LinkedIn or the Post News platform.
Many experts share their profile name on the rival Mastodon network, while others share a link to their Substack news feed. In the event of a problem with Twitter, “we will find other platforms,” relativizes Jason Kindrachuk, “but this will take time, and, unfortunately, infectious diseases will not wait until we find new communication mechanisms.”