Issue 47 / 15 December 2014

THE MJA turned 100 earlier this year but is still some way from becoming the oldest “person” on Twitter.

That official honour, as far as I’m aware, went to Ivy Bean, a 104-year-old from Bradford, England, who, at the time of her death in 2010, had 56 000 followers*.

For any tweeters* reading this, that’s pretty good going, paling even the MJA’s healthy following of about 7500 into insignificance.

When I joined Twitter earlier this year, with the goal of increasing the reach of MJA InSight, I had mixed feelings. I thought it might be inane, a distraction and a waste of time.

I worried about tweeting something inaccurate or capable of being misconstrued. Worse still, I might be ignored! Eight months and a modest number of followers later, some of these concerns remain.

Yet it turns out I am not alone.

Earlier this year, Australian sociologist Deborah Lupton conducted an online survey of academics who use social media professionally.

While they were very positive overall about the benefits — establishing valuable networks, exchanging information, publicising their work and gaining a sense of support — they saw some downsides. These included privacy concerns, blurred boundaries between personal and professional use, the possibility of career damage from injudicious postings, the need for posts to be credible and of high quality, time pressures, social media becoming an obligation, being attacked, exposure to self-promotion by others, and concerns about plagiarism, commercialisation of content and copyright.

And they are the ones using it! Some academics and many more doctors view social media as irrelevant or possibly detrimental to their work.

Those in the latter camp may well feel vindicated by a study recently published in Circulation. In a randomised controlled trial dubbed the “Intention to tweet” study, the journal’s editors nominated 243 articles to either receive or not receive social media exposure through Twitter or on Facebook. Thirty days later, there was no significant difference in the number of times the articles in either group had been viewed on the Circulation website.

Some aspects of the study’s design, such as choice of articles and the potential confounder of external parties sharing Circulation’s content on social media, have been questioned.

However, in a follow-up blog post, the journal’s editors made an interesting observation. In the week following the study’s publication, Circulation received 3.45 million impressions* on Twitter, reaching 1.35 million unique Twitter accounts.

Despite all this activity, the study received only 405 page views on the Circulation website, suggesting that many of those retweeting* or otherwise engaging with the study via Twitter had not read it.

Does “going viral” flag successful dissemination of research if readers only go as far as the Twitter postings? And what are the risks and benefits of reporting research in 140 characters?

As interesting as these questions are, I believe Twitter offers professional benefits to doctors. You can tailor the information stream by choosing who to follow, and it is an effective way to be notified of research and debate in your areas of interest, often with open access links to the academic literature. It also provides space for a much greater range of perspectives than the mainstream media, with opportunities to forge connections.

If you plan to access any kind of media, Twitter should be high on the list. Whether you choose to contribute to the chaotic conversation or decide to sit, watch and sift (as most scientists and engineers who responded to a survey for Nature earlier this year said they do), is up to you.

In this, our last issue of MJA InSight for 2014, I offer you the gift of Twitter. This Christmas, ask a teenager to create an account and download the smartphone app for you, follow a few people and organisations who can direct you to interesting online places and dip into the stream every now and then.

As we reflect on another year, the MJA InSight team is grateful to our regular columnists, the journalists who round out our medical news stories each week, the experts who make time to speak to them and, of course you — our readers.

When we return next year we’ll continue to strive to bring you the very best content and — yes — we’ll continue to tweet about it too.

Enjoy the festivities — and see you in the Twittersphere.

Dr Ruth Armstrong is the medical editor of MJA InSight.

* Glossary
Twittersphere: Postings made on Twitter, considered collectively
Tweet: A post made on Twitter by a user
Follower: Someone who receives your tweets
Tweeter: Someone who uses Twitter
Impression: A tweet delivered to the Twitter stream of a particular account
Retweeting: Sending someone else's tweet to your followers

Twitter addresses: @theMJA @DrRuthInsight


Do you use Twitter?
  • No – not interested (60%, 50 Votes)
  • Yes – an avid user (18%, 15 Votes)
  • Yes – occasionally (17%, 14 Votes)
  • No – but would consider (6%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 84

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One thought on “Ruth Armstrong: A social odyssey

  1. Allan Palmer says:

    ‘Social Media’ of all types tend to be lumped into one big bucket. As a medic active on the various platforms for many years, and the web for many years before that, I dont think this is true. Each is a tool. I would advise your readers to consider what each tool is best for and fulfills their needs.


    Facebook: Allows you to communicate with people you know

    Google Plus: (my personal favourate) allows you to engate with people with similar interests

    Twitter: allows you to braodcast short messages with a limited shelf life.

    Each will suit different personalities and have different signal to noise ratios.

    Personally, I love Google plus. Marketers hate it as for technical reasons they find it harder to control ‘the message’. But the level of intelligent discussion can be great, if you are willing to spend a little time engaging yourself.

    Whichever platform readers choose, I think we owe it as a public health duty as medical professionals to be ‘out there’ in the public arena making robust, reliable facts and opinion readily available.

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