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Washington (AFP) – For several days, emergency doctors, virologists, infectiologists or even epidemiologists multiply messages on Twitter, telling their subscribers how to follow them on other platforms, in case of social malfunction network bought by billionaire Elon Musk.
The blue-bird company has laid off half of its 7,500 employees, and several hundred others are out the door, raising concerns about the network’s ability to continue. The unpredictability of his new boss also raises fears of moves that will radically change the essence of the platform.
However, since the Covid-19 pandemic, many medical experts have turned Twitter into a real tool: to get information, share their research, communicate public health messages or even build relationships work relationships with colleagues.
The pandemic “I think has really been a tipping point in using social media as a resource for researchers,” Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba, Canada, told AFP.
In January 2020, Covid-19 spread like wildfire around the world. Studies are being conducted everywhere to understand how the virus spreads, and how best to protect yourself against it. They were shared at full speed on Twitter to respond to the dismay of health professionals and the general public.
This is the advent of “preprints”, the first version of a scientific study, before it is reviewed and published in a recognized journal.
“In the midst of a pandemic, the ability to quickly share information is crucial for the dissemination of knowledge, and Twitter makes it possible to do this in a way that is impossible to achieve with “specialized” journals, underlined in April 2020 a comments published in the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine.
The process of verifying the results takes place almost live on Twitter, with scientists publicly sharing their interpretations and criticisms of each new study. Certainly, sometimes, a bad effect: some works receive attention they do not deserve, and researchers express themselves on topics far from their field of expertise.
Thanks to Twitter, many experts began to collaborate, remotely.
“There are people I work with now from relationships that were born on Twitter. To think that could change in the near future is a source of concern and regret,” said Jason Kindrachuk, 22,000 followers, who works specifically on Ebola in Africa.
Beyond pure research, the social network also plays an important role in terms of communication vis-à-vis politicians and the general public.
At the time of the appearance of the Omicron variant at the end of 2021, “this information was shared publicly via Twitter by our colleagues in South Africa and Botswana”, underlined Jason Kindrachuk, “allowing many countries to start preparing “.
The impact is even greater because Twitter has long been frequented by another professional body: journalists.
“Because Twitter is a platform followed by journalists, it helps” to amplify the message, then likely to end up in traditional media, underlined Céline Gounder, specialist in infectious diseases with 88,000 subscribers.
Faced with concern about the future of Mr. Musk, he explained to AFP that he transferred a private discussion with a dozen colleagues to Signal messaging, and relaunched his publications on the LinkedIn professional network, or the Post News platform.
Many experts share their profile name on the rival Mastodon network, and others a link to their Substack news feed.
In the event of a problem with Twitter, “we will look for other platforms”, relativizes Jason Kindrachuk, “but it will take time, and unfortunately infectious diseases will not wait for us to find new mechanisms of communication”.
© 2022 AFP