Is Twitter becoming a new face of Public health, CORONAVIRUS and Twitter world
Gone are the days when public health was an issue of agencies and public health professionals behind closed doors. The information travels faster in the days of web 2.0 and social media has played a vital role in bringing public health-related issues into the public arenas. Twitter is a famous microblogging site, where people of diverse backgrounds and professions join to disseminate information related to their profession or about the random problems of society. Invented in 2006 as a communication website for sharing ideas and thoughts in the shortest words possible while maintaining the critical information intact it quickly gains popularity among youngsters. Initially, it was looked upon by the analysts of the industry as just another tool of social media and picture sharing sites like Facebook but it quickly gained popularity among the people of professional backgrounds. This was mainly because of its neat and clean design and the limitation of words so the only thing that’s matters is posted.
Public health monitoring is a critical subject and needs constant updates and monitoring of the situation for effective response and management of disease outbreaks. This makes it more sensitive as the information that has originated at the base level or ground zero in case of a disease outbreak must reach the public on time and reliable manner. With the advent of social media and microblogging sites like Twitter and Facebook, the information travels much quickly and in a more efficient way. However, the information carried via different mediums varies greatly and the authenticity is always in question. Misinformation and fake news related to public health emergencies are likely to create panic among the people that eventually leads to delayed or inaccurate response to the situation.
Twitter however is a medium that has evolved as prima facie of accurate public health responses. There are millions of users that tweet and get updates on the latest happenings in the world including the spread and management of the diseases that have emerged in the far-flung areas of the world. Around the world, the public health organization and major stakeholders of disease management globally have their Twitter accounts that constantly update the users regarding the latest happening and the interventions. The more and more interest of public health professionals and companies on Twitter is due to two main reasons i.e. a) the speed and accuracy with which the accurate information reaches the public or the concerning bodies around the world and b) the cost of this information delivery. for usual and by the book information gathering regarding the disease spread would take one to two weeks as it requires information gathering from the public health professionals, laboratories, and state officials, and then the compilation and interpretation require another one or two to analyses the information received. This causes delays that may prove to be fetal or even reduce the time needed to mount an effective response to the disease outbreak.
However, with the use of social media sites with the presence of official accounts and concerning authorities on it the Twitter has reduced the time from weeks to a few hours or days. This helps departments like the center for Disease Control (CDC) and local health care authorities to reach and manage the ground zeros. This is however challenging as to differentiate the news from fake and propaganda videos and blogs that often circulate on the sites. Twitter managed it in two ways i.e. the official accounts of the concerned agencies that validate and create awareness and update people this creates less information fog and quicker validation. The other way I through the big data analysis tools. The keywords searches are analyzed through data analysis software and information about what is being tweeted and with what frequency. This helped the UK track and manage the Influenza cases during 2010.
One recent example would be the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 disease and Twitter in real-time updates about the cases and the number of places impacted. Many users and Twitter handles updated the situation from ground zero and from the emergency rooms keeping the general public updates regarding the latest. The analyst believes this has resulted in the awareness that leads to reduce chances of people getting out and being infected.
Recently Twitter updated its information source database to help the user find accurate information regarding public health emergencies and related topics and direct the search to the official pages of the companies. This means getting ahead of the public concerns and circumventing the misinformation regarding the use and management of matters concerning public health.
However, with the changing ways of how information travels and how this can be used against the health care facilities, the accuracy of the information is under scrutiny. There is a constant fear among healthcare professionals and agencies regarding the spread of misinformation on social media when the authenticity is not established as fast as the information is generated. The concerns are real and there is a broad spectrum debate in all the concerned quarters to deter the spread of misinformation and promotion of public health issues. However, doing so must not compromise or create public health responses and must not create panic among the citizens.