Using Social Media to Disseminate Science
In our last issue, Nicolette provided some valuable insights into navigating scientific information and misinformation on social media, and in this issue Fahed gives you tips on how to share your own research! Here we discuss another way in which scientists and organizations might take advantage of the social media space to provide accurate, accessible information and keep viewers of all kinds interested and informed. We also provide some examples of scientists using social media with great success!
Some researchers may feel that scientific knowledge is too serious for social media or that it deserves a more hallowed delivery system. Whether or not you hold these views or use social media yourself, there is no denying that its use is the norm, and that many people rely on it for news and other important updates. These same individuals may not have access to more traditional methods of scientific knowledge dissemination, such as scientific journals, or may not have the scientific literacy to parse through often dense texts. It’s also true that for many people, social media is accessible and fun, making it a more attractive option when it comes to staying informed. However, as discussed in our last issue, false and misleading information abounds. This leaves individuals using social media as a source of important information vulnerable.
One of the draws of social media is the variety. Across many of the major apps, there are scientists, clinicians, and healthcare workers who are actively working to provide quality, accessible information through a variety of social media modalities. Recently on Twitter, Vaccine Hunters Canada (@VaxHuntersCan) have been responsible for providing current, accurate accounts of vaccine availability across Canada. They have been so successful with this initiative that they have partnered with the City of Toronto to expand their scope. TikTok also features a number of excellent accounts. @JoelBervell is a medical student at Yale providing invaluable information about racial bias in medicine. @Itsalwaysbritt is a pharmacist whose sketches break down common medications, their contraindications, and how they work. @Harmreductionservices explains harm reduction services, provides valuable information about social aspects of health, and works to reduce stigma around drug use and mental health. Over on Instagram, @Raventhesciencemaven is a molecular scientist and science educator who makes complex science topics fun and promotes an inclusive scientific community where scientists can be themselves. @SteamSisters share their love of all things STEAM in accessible snippets that promote curiosity and investigation. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it serves to highlight some excellent work being done in this space. While they cover a broad variety of topics, the commonalities that exist among these creators is high quality information delivered in accessible ways to inform and bring awareness to their chosen field. They have turned social media into a powerful tool for education.
It must be acknowledged that social media use in science and healthcare raises many questions surrounding professionalism, intent, safety, confidentiality, compensation, legality, and more. While these issues are outside the scope of this article, it would be very important for any creator to carefully consider these aspects, and address any ethical, legal, or policy concerns at the outset. That said, if these issues can be adequately controlled for, government agencies, universities, and even individual researchers may consider following the examples of the above-mentioned creators to make use of the wide reach of these media. This may be invaluable for practical purposes such as participant recruitment and to increase awareness of the issues addressed by their work, the current research landscape, and the future of research in their area(s).
As scientists, we spend countless hours doing research, analyzing data, and writing papers with the purpose of advancing knowledge and improving outcomes. Ensuring other scientists and clinicians have access to this information is only half the battle – it’s often important for the general public to understand our findings (the COVID-19 pandemic has provided many excellent examples of this!). As such, the use of accessible modalities to get high quality information into the hands of viewers is increasingly important. If we’re lucky, we may even reach a few future scientists who may not otherwise have discovered an interest in our respective fields.