Social media has emerged as one of the most powerful forms of communication in the world. Its simplicity and accessibility make it almost effortless for users of almost any age to join and share content across multiple platforms.
To see how wide the scope of social media is, an analysis by marketing strategy consulting firm Kepios estimates that in April 2022, there were 4.65 billion social media users worldwide, an increase of 326 million users compared to the same month last year.
For many, social media can be used to expand their social and professional networks, share photos, information and opinions with a wider audience, start conversations and engage with that audience, and build their reputation and brand.
In particular, scientists and researchers can use it to inform their peers and educate the public about new research and discoveries related to their lives. When used carefully, social media can be a tool to promote scientific and health literacy among the general public. Alternatively, social media used in a maliciously misleading way can spread misinformation and have harmful consequences.
The call of social media
Indu Partha, MDClinical Assistant at the University of Arizona Medical College – Tucson Department of Medicine, is an active Twitter user.
In addition to her personal account, @InduParthaDr. Partha monitors several other accounts such as @SundayWIMChatwhich provides a space for women in medicine to discuss topics in internal medicine and @primarycarechat, which hosts weekly talks between primary care providers, where they immerse themselves deeply in a variety of medical topics. Another Twitter account that Dr. Partha monitors @UAWomenAcadMedoffers space for mentoring, networking and career development for Women’s College of Medicine – Tucson College
“I think social media allows for amazing connections across the country,” Dr. Parta said. “I like to have ‘access’ to colleagues and experts who live on the other side of the United States, about whom I usually know nothing in my daily life in Tucson.”
“I think a lot of people associate social media with negative connotations – a false sense of perfect life, beautiful photos and something more superficial,” she added. “I encourage people to take a closer look to see what opportunities social media can open up professionally.”
Deepta Bhatacharya, drA professor at the Tucson School of Immunobiology Medical School said he found social media, and in particular the form of Twitter communication directly to users, very attractive. Dr. Bhatacharya’s Twitter page devotes a lot of space to his research, which studies the reactions of antibodies to infections and vaccines.
“I think I have had my Twitter account since 2016 or so, but I almost never logged in and tweeted anything until the spring of 2020,” said Dr. Bhattacharya, who is also a member of the BIO5 Institute.
“It was at this time that I became disillusioned with some of the news of the pandemic, as I felt they were confusing much of basic immunology, such as equating COVID-19 with AIDS. I felt that Twitter was a place that allowed me and other immunologists to respond.
“Interestingly, when I started tweeting and the number of my followers increased, I started receiving requests for interviews from journalists. I really underestimated how science journalists used Twitter as a guide to decide who to interview. I’m not sure this is the best model for choosing sources, but in general I think they do a much better job of choosing people with relevant experience.
For Belal Joseph, MDTucson Medical College, Department of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care, Burns and Acute Surgery, connecting with people around the world, sharing knowledge and exploring the views of others are his reasons for using social media, especially Twitter.
“I post on Twitter for a variety of reasons,” Dr. Joseph explained. “Sometimes it’s my own expression of feelings or thoughts, other times it’s for mentoring, coaching or lessons learned. There is a section dedicated to research, medicine and current trends and I often seek opinions from people around the world. There is also a social aspect to building relationships with many thought leaders and people across the country. Finally, personal and family publications should show people that we are all the same. It’s about humanizing my account instead of creating a split. “
Dr. Joseph’s Twitter account proudly displays the desired blue “verified” badge, which shows that a public interest account is authentic (verified identity), remarkable (associated with a prominent person or brand), and active (with a record of compliance with Twitter rules).
“Building trust comes with time and content,” said Dr. Joseph, who is also a professor of neurosurgery. “It’s important to keep it real according to my own thoughts and feelings. The blue verified badge also keeps me under control to make sure I’m tweeting and in line with the standard that led me to this point.
Dr. Partha’s approach to building trust with her followers is simple – be authentic. “I’m trying to be authentic online,” she said. “My online presence really represents who I am” personally “. I like to think that I am a reliable, down-to-earth person in real life, and I hope that my audience can understand this through my publications. I am also careful about any medical information I post. I stick to science. “
Staying true to science is also Dr. Bhattacharya’s approach. “I try to keep my tweets limited to my area of expertise – immunology,” he said. “My style is much more about informing than trying to persuade people to do something on their own. The goal is to try to provide people with accurate information so that they can come to the right decision on their own. I do not weigh on the polarization of public health recommendations or policies, because this is not my area of expertise and would be counterproductive.
Dealing with the deniers of science and misinformation
Dr Parta said she was lucky when it came to disinformation dissenters and science deniers invading her social media. “Fortunately, I was not in a position to defend science,” she said.
“From time to time I get an anonymous account from a bot or troll who tweets something malicious, but I just ignore them,” said Dr. Bhatacarya. “They have no influence over others and there is no point in raising their profiles through engagement.”
As a daily Twitter user for a wider audience, Dr. Joseph found his own way to deal with this problem. “Over time, I’ve realized that when I’m dealing with conspiracy theorists, it’s different from dealing with those who just question science. As a scientist, I question everything we do every day, but I look at data and literature to find support. I try not to read tweets from conspiracy theorists or people who are only there for controversy. “Often the best thing I have to do is stay focused on my brand and my message,” he said.
Dam Hee Kim, Dr.Assistant in the Department of Communications at UArizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, explores how people share and engage with social media news and policy.
“There doesn’t have to be editorial filtering or fact-checking on social media before someone publishes any information,” Dr Kim said. “Information, true and false, along with entertainment and social content, is presented together on social media, which challenges consumers to separate facts from opinions and false information.”
Ongoing research by Dr. Kim has found that social media may have fueled the anti-vaccine movement by facilitating misconceptions about COVID-19, such as that COVID deaths are exaggerated. “These misconceptions are then linked to avoiding vaccination,” said Dr. Kim. “In social media shows, consumers are likely to be presented with information, social media algorithms that they think consumers would like, engage or agree to.
If consumers’ beliefs and views can be reinforced when they rely on social media for information, how should scientists counter misinformation?
“It is important for health scientists to share the right health information on their social platforms and to encourage more social media users to actively engage with it by commenting on it and sharing it with others,” said Dr. Kim. “When the number of engagements in science-informed publications is higher, the social media algorithm will push these publications further to reach a wider audience.”