I’m about a week on Twitter, so still very much an ‘absolute beginner’ in the words of  David Bowie. So far I’m enjoying the ride though. Other ITM colleagues are far more acquainted with the medium. These tech savvy ‘early adapters’ might also post something about Twitter  on this blog in the coming months.

I’m trying to find out how I can get the most out of this social media tool for global health purposes (news, trends, debates…), and it would be great if some of you could offer some advice. Some necessary background: I’m not a social media aficionado, far from it, for example I’m still (one of the now less than 6 billion Neanderthals) not on Facebook. Yet, Twitter does seem to have some potential.

I’ve mainly followed a number of people and institutions so far, not really hashtags. But I have to admit that, when you see people retweeting other people’s tweets, one feels the constant urge to follow even more people, including in other areas (not related to health policy & financing). It can quickly become a nasty addiction, that much is clear. For the moment I spend 15 minutes a day on Twitter, on average, and I intend to keep it that way. (yes, that’s already 15 minutes less time for my wife and son, I know). I have very few followers, which is nice – in case somebody hacks my account, the damage will be limited.

My first ‘global health’ week on Twitter was marked by some turmoil on the conversion of David de Ferranti on user fees and the first Romney/Obama debate obviously – apparently the most tweeted political event in history so far, and a debate that left most global health and development voices very disappointed at Obama’s lacklustre performance.

Also, Richard Horton and Richard Smith tweeted as if it was their last week, Horton for example on climate change and global health. He wondered what would be a ‘reasonable’ goal for global health people. I have a suggestion for him and other key global health thinkers: fly less. A lot less. Global health voices feel “entitled” to flying around the world, not unlike key decision makers and sports stars. If we want to have some moral authority in this debate, especially towards public opinion, we have to lead by example. (That is, as long as Richard Branson doesn’t come up with a breakthrough in terms of sustainable plane fuel.) Horton would also like to have a debate on ‘the role of men’ in global health. Now that could be dynamite. Anybody?

The funniest tweet of my first week on Twitter came from Andrew Harmer: “Finishing the job is a matter of human will. Surely we can outsmart a microscopic, mindless virus. Chan on Romne… Sorry, Polio.”  Unfortunately, “Romneyworld” came a tad closer, this week, as we know.  I also noticed Bill Gates has plenty of followers – although he doesn’t tweet much, and if he tweets, it’s rather bland. Finally, as I already mentioned in this week’s IHP newsletter, tweeting on the (now finalized) People’s Health Movement Cape Town Call to action was very limited, to my knowledge. That is a shame.

So how do you get the most out of Twitter for professional purposes? Do you feel there’s an American/liberal/… bias? Whom do you target to get the latest updates, which global health related hashtags tend to have the most contributions, who are the ‘multitweeters’ to avoid and which people like to kick up a row on Twitter? Last but not least, how do you contain the information overload?

For example, it would be great to find out what health financing people tweet about and whom they follow, versus people who are more into global health governance, or right to health activists and scholars. Or to know what hashtags and topics African health systems researchers focus on, versus Americans, Asians, Europeans…  What does Twitter add to the current African health systems research debate, given the fact thatAfricahas leapfrogged the West in terms of mobile phones? Is there already a hashtag for the post-MDG and health debate, for example? And is there a session scheduled on Twitter and HSR at the Beijing Symposium? …

We hope to hear from you.

Not on Twitter, though – I take the weekend off. 🙂

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