Twitter and Our Public Health

As we all sit and watch the dumpster fire that is Twitter it can be easy to cheer on the demise of this platform. Although as I stare into the multi-color flames I can’t help but think about tall the work we’ve done on the Twitter plantation of the years, and the role it plays it our world. One are that comes to mind is how many of us received public health news as Covid gripped the world via Twitter. I spent months working on a Covid tracking website that primarily used the Twitter API to pull information from the state and county health departments who all use Twitter. I automated pulling of data from government health agencies and then aggregated it and pushed I back out all using the Twitter API — this will be hard to repeat in the future.

While someday we may be able to get municipal, county, and state health departments to adopt a more federated approach to social media, I am guessing it will take years, and not reach the saturation levels of agencies as well as consistent tuned in that we have on Twitter today. Knowing how government agencies work, it will take some serious champions and evangelists to support standing up Mastodon servers for government agencies to see a more federated approach to social media and sharing of public health data with the masses. While I am fine with having to rebuild my social realm, and even see it as an opportunity, I can’t help but think about what we are collectively losing by letting Elon Musk set fire to the Twitterers we all worked so hard to build.