From bioethics to #bioethx (30.03.2015)
“So, how long have you been on Twitter?” It’s a question I field often, at bioethics conferences and events; both on-line and in person. Or, as we say on Twitter; “IRL” for in real life.
The answer is since January 2012, over 3 years ago now. My impetus to join stemmed from a friend with whom I’d studied bioethics. He knew that I was already blogging about bioethics, and that there didn’t seem to be many individuals in our field who were blogging – or reading blogs. Back then, the question I most often had to answer about my on-line activities was “What’s a blob?”
My friend was already on Twitter, and told me that he’d found a small on-line ‘community’ there – of other folks with interests in biomedical ethics. I jumped right in, and have tremendously enjoyed participating in conversations – called ‘tweetchats’ – on a regular basis.
A tweetchat is an on-line forum, held at a specific date and time; frequency can be one-time, weekly, or monthly and they tend to last 30 to 60 minutes. The leader of a chat is called a moderator, and there are sometimes more than one moderators for a chat.
Tweetchats are public, and everyone who wants to join in will use the same hashtag (a word or phrase following the # symbol, e.g. #bioethx) whenever they post a message relating to that tweetchat. They’ll also follow/read the tweets being posted to that hashtag during the tweetchat. It’s an on-line conversation, with a truly global reach.
A common format is to have 3 or 4 questions for each tweetchat, which would be made available – in advance – on a blog or website. A 1-hour tweetchat may attribute 15 minutes to each of 4 questions, while a 30-minute chat may have 3 questions with 10 minutes devoted to each.
If you’re thinking of joining a tweetchat, the concept of ‘lurking’ on Twitter might be useful. That means following the chat once or twice, prior to participating. This provides an opportunity to verify, for that specific chat:
- what type of content is being tweeted (including any links to reference websites/articles embedded within participants’ tweets)
- who’s participating (i.e. if it’s a healthcare chat involving both clinicians and patients, it’s best to avoid clinical terms)
- whether there are any comments you’re not comfortable with (e.g. political viewpoints)
One of my favorite tweetchats is #bioethx, on Monday evenings. The moderator is a medical student who’s passionate about bioethics; she started this tweetchat in 2013.
This year, to mark International Women’s Day, she created an image – called an “infographic” on Twitter – of the women who’re the most engaged participants in the weekly #bioethx tweetchats.
I was pleasantly surprised to see my photograph in this list. My roles in bioethics haven’t been in academia, nor have I published papers in peer-reviewed journals.
But I do work in bioethics, and am passionate about it; patients’ rights – including appropriate protection of identifiable medical information, healthcare policy, and veterans’ health issues (as a former Air Force Reserve officer).
One of the joys of these tweetchats is that they democratize conversations involving bioethics. There are often patients participating, which is something I haven’t seen anywhere else in bioethics. Which seems odd to me, given that patients are the reasons for which bioethics… exists!
Another is the global reach of these chats, no matter the topic. I’ve connected with folks from around the globe on these different chats; Australia, England, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Scotland… without the cost of travelling!
For my own tips on using Twitter, read How to “tweet” bioethics.