How important is Twitter for science?  Scientists fear the disappearance of the social network

For days, doctors, virologists, infectologists and epidemiologists have multiplied the messages in Twittertelling their subscribers how to follow them on other platforms, in case the social network bought by billionaire Elon Musk collapses.

Following the acquisition in late October, the bluebird logo company laid off half of its 7,500 employees, with several hundred resigning, raising concerns about the network’s ability to continue operating. The unpredictability of his new boss also raises fears of measures that would alter the essence of the platform.

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Since the covid-19 pandemic, many medical experts have made Twitter a valuable tool: to obtain information, share their research, communicate public health messages, or even build working relationships with colleagues.

the pandemic “I think it has really been a turning point in the use of social networks as a resource for researchers”Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba in Canada, told AFP.

In January 2020, covid-19 began to spread around the world. Studies everywhere were seeking to understand how the virus spread and how to best protect against it. The research was immediately shared on Twitter to respond to the anxiety of health professionals and the general public.

It was the advent of “preprints”or first version of a scientific study, before it was peer-reviewed and published in a recognized journal.

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“In the midst of a pandemic, the ability to share information quickly is essential for the translation and dissemination of knowledge, and Twitter can do it in a way that is normally not feasible for textbooks or specialized” magazines, stressed in April 2020 the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine.

On Twitter, the process of verifying the results is carried out almost live and direct, and scientists publicly share their interpretations and criticisms of each new study. This can sometimes have a perverse effect: certain works receive attention they do not deserve, and non-specialists express themselves on topics outside their field.

international collaboration

Thanks to Twitter, many experts have also started working togetherremote form.

“There are people I work with now from relationships that were born on Twitter. To think that this could change in the near future is a source of concern and regret.”said Jason Kindrachuk, an Ebola specialist in Africa who has 22,000 supporters.

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Beyond pure research, the social network also plays an important role in terms of communication with politicians and the general public.

When the omicron variant appeared at the end of 2021, “our colleagues in South Africa and Botswana shared this information publicly via Twitter”Kindrachuk stressed, “which allowed many countries to start preparing.”

The impact is even greater since Twitter has always been highly frequented by another group of professionals: journalists.

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“Because Twitter is a platform that is very followed by journalists, it helps” to amplify the message, then likely to reach mainstream media, said Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert with 88,000 subscribers.

Concerned about the future of Musk’s network, Gounder told AFP that he had transferred a private discussion with a dozen colleagues to the Signal messaging application, and that he relaunched his posts on the professional network LinkedIn and the Post News platform. .

Many experts are sharing his profile name on Mastodon, a rival Twitter network, and others a link to his news thread on the Substack platform.

In case of a problem with Twitter, “we will adapt”Kindrachuk said. “We will find other social media platforms to do this, but it will take time and unfortunately infectious diseases don’t wait for us to find new mechanisms to communicate.”.

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