Medical community concerned about fate of Twitter – Digital Journal

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The social media giant symbolized by the blue bird has laid off half of its 7,500 employees, while several hundred have resigned, raising questions about its future – Copyright AFP Daniel MIHAILESCU

Lucie AUBURG

For days, doctors, scientists and public health experts have been telling their Twitter followers where to find them on other platforms if Elon Musk’s newly acquired company fails.

The social media giant symbolized by the blue bird has laid off half of its 7,500 employees, while several hundred have resigned, raising questions about its future.

Even if he survives, the new boss’s unpredictability has raised fears that his policies could profoundly alter the character of the so-called digital town square.

That would be a huge loss for medical experts, who have used Twitter since the start of the Covid pandemic as a tool to quickly gather information, share their research, communicate public health messages and forge new collaborations.

The pandemic was a “tipping point for the use of social media as a primary resource for researchers,” Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba in Canada, told AFP.

When the coronavirus began its global march in January 2020, researchers embarked on studies to understand how the virus spreads, its effects on health, and how best to protect yourself.

They immediately shared the findings on Twitter to help the broader medical community and an anxious public, often in the form of “preprints,” preliminary versions of scientific papers before they are submitted to a journal.

“In the midst of a pandemic, the ability to share information quickly is critical to the translation and dissemination of knowledge, and Twitter can do this in a way that is normally not feasible for textbooks or magazines,” said a commentary published in the Canadian. Journal of Emergency Medicine.

The peer review process effectively took place in real time on Twitter, with scientists publicly sharing their interpretations and critiques of each new study.

Of course, there was also a downside: undignified work received excessive attention, and non-specialists spoke out on issues that were far from their areas of expertise.

– International collaborations –

On the other hand, it was thanks to Twitter that experts from all over the world could easily meet and form teams.

“There are people I collaborate with now that have been based on interactions that were born from Twitter,” said Kindrachuk, who has around 22,000 followers.

“To think that that could change in the very near future, that to me brings up some feelings of worry and regret.”

For example, it was the vital work of researchers in South Africa and Botswana that alerted the world to the dangerous Omicron variant in late 2021.

To the loss of Twitter would be added the fact that for a long time it has been frequented by experts from another profession: journalism.

“Because Twitter is a platform followed by many journalists, it helps, there is a feedback loop. It is amplified,” explained Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist with 88,000 followers.

He added that he had moved a private Twitter discussion with a dozen colleagues to Signal and began once again to post his thoughts on LinkedIn and the Post News platform.

Many pundits have now identified rival service Mastodon in their Twitter bios, or have directed their followers to their newsletters on Substack.

If Twitter doesn’t work, “we’ll all adapt, we’ll find other social media platforms,” ​​Kindrachuk said.

“But it will take time, and unfortunately, infectious diseases don’t wait for us to find new mechanisms to communicate.”

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