from the it's-not-all-russian-propaganda dept
It’s become sort of a common refrain among many that social media is only good for spreading misinformation and disinformation. I’ve even seen some people claim that social media is to blame for misinformation spreading about COVID-19. This is not to say that such information doesn’t exist, and isn’t being spread, but it ignores how much useful information is being spread as well. Indeed, nearly all of the accurate and more factual information I received concerning COVID-19 came via experts on Twitter, and generally anywhere from a week to nearly a month ahead of “official” reports. While I haven’t seen it officially stated anywhere, I have seen people say that those on Twitter were more likely to quickly embrace social distancing and lockdown, as compared to those not on Twitter.
So it didn’t come as much of a surprise to me to hear, on a recent episode of the Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z) podcast, a bunch of oncologists all say that the best information they were receiving was via Twitter. The entire episode is quite interesting — talking with Dr. Bobby Green from Flatiron Health, Dr. Sumit Shah from Stanford’s Cancer Center along with A16Z’s Vineeta Agarwala (who recently joined A16Z and I believe is still a physician at Stanford’s Cancer Center as well) — about how oncologists are dealing with their cancer patients in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’d recommend listening to the whole thing, but for the purposes of this post, I wanted to highlight just two short parts. The first one comes starting around 10 minutes in (and I think I’ve figured out whose voice is whose, so I believe the transcript here is accurate, though I wouldn’t guarantee it) where they discuss the importance of Twitter, starting with Dr. Green talking about crowdsourcing ideas.
Agarwala: Who is the group that you’re able to engage in real time on such difficult decisions on individual patients?
Green: Well, Vineeta, as one of my seven Twitter followers, you may have seen that I [laughs]…
Agarwala: I saw that you crowdsourced that! Well done…
Green: Yeah, I crowdsourced an early-stage lung cancer question today. We have a multi-disciplinary lung tumor board, Vineeta, where these questions have come up. A lot of curbsiding other docs. That’s been my experience. I think what’s really interesting about the problems we’re facing is that there’s sort of the art and the science of medicine. This is one of those circumstances where the art of medicine and judgment and how to apply knowledge about data to great areas of uncertainty, really comes into play. And it’s been intellectually challenging to do so.
Agarwala: I’m glad you brought up Twitter. Is that a viable tool for you guys for crowdsourcing for even anecdotal data, advice, decision-making in this area?
Green: I’ve personally found the discussions on Twitter about this to be really helpful and really informative. So, to me, yes. You have to be a little more general than you would like to be for PHI [Protect Health Information] reasons, obviously, but I find it very useful.
Shah: I actually think that Twitter is the best source of medical information right now. The majority of the data I’m receiving, I”m actually receiving in real-time from my Twitter feed as opposed to waiting for publications to come out. So it’s actually been very, very helpful to have access to Twitter, and it’s been a tremendous communication tool for experts around the country and the world in general.
I believe this is the “crowdsourcing” tweet that Dr. Green was referring to:
— Bobby Green (@pbcancerdoc) March 27, 2020
It looks like six oncologists from around the world quickly responded to him. It’s kind of amazing to see that in practice.
The second mention of Twitter in the podcast is briefer and comes towards the end. They’re discussing how they’re handling clinical trials for various cancer treatments and whether or not they can or should continue, and Dr. Shah notes:
We are doing an international cancer registry right now on patients with coronavirus. And this was an effort that was largely led through Twitter actually, by recruiting other physicians from other institutions, to capture all this data.
As I said, the whole podcast is quite worth listening to, covering just how oncologists are dealing with treating cancer patients in the midst of a pandemic — but I find it especially fascinating to see just how helpful Twitter has apparently been to them, even as we still keep hearing people insisting that Twitter and other social media is nothing but misinformation.