A local doctor dedicated to debunking COVID-19 conspiracy theories is giving up that fight, on Twitter at least, claiming that misinformation is running wild on that platform. And the data backs up that claim.
A number of UCSF doctors have become semi-famous on Twitter over the course of the pandemic, for their COVID-19 insights that present complex data in easy-to-understand plan language. But then the Elon Musk takeover of Twitter happened, and under Musk's COVID-denying leadership, the site’s COVID misinformation policies were tossed out the window.
A new piece in the New York Times contains the wholly unsurprising phrase “Twitter is of particular concern for researchers,” referring to that site’s abandoning of COVID misinformation guardrails. In addition to that, there's been the gutting of critical staff in the content moderation division, and Musk’s bizarre use of Twitter polls to make major decisions about the site’s direction. Research shows that indeed, COVID misinformation has taken off again under Musk's tenure.
“From Nov. 1 to Dec. 5, Australian researchers collected more than half a million conspiratorial and misleading English-language tweets about Covid, using terms such as ‘deep state,’ ‘hoax’ and ‘bioweapon,” the Times reports. “The tweets drew more than 1.6 million likes and 580,000 retweets.”
Actively allowing COVID misinformation here was the last straw for me; I spent hundreds of hours on Twitter trying to do the opposite.— Graham Walker, MD (@grahamwalker) December 16, 2022
Hope to connect elsewhere at some point in the future!👋👋👋
Enter San Francisco emergency room physician Dr. Graham Walker, or rather, exit Dr. Graham Walker from Twitter. Walker, who works for Kaiser, is one of the doctors the Times spoke with for their piece, and per the Times, “He has posted several Twitter threads with more than a hundred evidence-packed tweets trying to debunk misinformation about the coronavirus.”
But as seen above, Walker declared on December 16, “Actively allowing COVID misinformation here was the last straw for me; I spent hundreds of hours on Twitter trying to do the opposite.” He has not tweeted since.
“I began to think that this was not a winning battle,” Walker told the Times. “It doesn’t feel like a fair fight.”
There’s a concern that COVID-denial-style misinformation could begin to affect public responses to R.S.V. and influenza, which are also overwhelming emergency rooms with patients. Maybe those outbreaks will prove to be a seasonal blip, or fairly quickly contained like the summer and fall MPX outbreak. But given that we’re effectively nearing Year Four of the COVID-19 pandemic in a few months, thanks in large part to widespread laxness, it’s easy to be skeptical at the direction this will all go.
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