Doctors, scientists band together to combat misinformation on Twitter

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Doctors, scientists, among other health professionals, have banded together to amplify health-related information on the microblogging platform, Twitter.

The team, which comprises health professionals from various institutions, was formed to combat health misinformation on Twitter, following the widespread false information that trailed the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world.

Called the health professional amplifier, the team tweet accurate health and safety information about the coronavirus.

Dr. Regina Royan, the first author of a new Northwestern Medicine paper, while explaining the genesis of the group said they amplify one another “to combat misinformation and drown out some of the noise.”

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Royan is a member of the Illinois-based health professional amplifier, known as the Illinois Medical Professional Action Collaborative Team (IMPACT), which uses the verified Twitter handle @IMPACT4HC.

Royan, alongside her fellow medical professionals, explained in the paper published on July 22 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, how successful the group has been.

The study is titled, “Use of Twitter Amplifiers by Medical Professionals to Tackle Misinformation During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Other Northwestern authors include Dr Seth Trueger and Tricia Pendergrast.

They noted that it has been an effective tool to disseminate accurate medical information and combat disinformation while minimizing the harm related to personal and professional harassment that can come with social media advocacy.

Royan (@reginaroyan), who is the emergency medicine research fellow and clinical instructor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said, “The pandemic has been really taxing for health professionals.”

“In addition to the emotional toll caring for these very sick patients, particularly in the early waves of the pandemic, the politicization around COVID-19 added another layer of stress for many of us. One thing we highlight in this paper is that this kind of groups can be a safe space for health professionals to talk about issues like harassment on social media to keep the fight against misinformation going.”

IMPACT has created numerous easy-to-digest infographics in both English and Spanish around specific issues.

The issues include the effectiveness of masking and social distancing, and how mRNA was used to create the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

IMPACT and other health professional amplifiers are comprised of nurses, health economists, scientists, public health professionals, and physicians.

They’ve endured public harassment and attacks after posting scientifically proven medical information about the COVID-19 virus and vaccines.

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“We know that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the Latino population, and it’s been important to us to partner with community organizations like Illinois Unidos to ensure that we are also addressing misinformation with Spanish-language resources,” Royan said.

The group has recently begun to combat false information about reproductive health issues following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

Also, they have started disseminating information about firearm injury, such as a recent tweet that stated, “Fact: Mental illness is not an effective predictor of gun violence against others.”

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