Coronavirus on Social Media: COVID-19 Hashtags, Social Distancing, Twitter Tweets

Posts about COVID-19 coronavirus are flooding into social media so rapidly, it's often hard to know what deserves your attention.

Liz Neporent
March 20, 2020

Posts about COVID-19 coronavirus are flooding into social media so rapidly, it's often hard to know what deserves your attention. To help out, Medscape is wading through it all to highlight what we find to be the most interesting information for clinicians.

Today, we're clarifying the best hashtags to use on Twitter, a suggested pivot away from the idea of social distancing, and one physician's successful online outreach to patients.

A Clinician's Guide to Hashtag Use

There are at least 100 million tweets a day pouring into Twitter referencing some aspect of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Tom Lee, cofounder of Symplur, a healthcare social media-monitoring company.

The volume is so overwhelming, Symplur has had to "throttle back" the number of tweets it analyzes to avoid a system crash. The hashtag #SARSCoV2, which has not been throttled back, is being tweeted at a rate of at least 1300 times per minute, Lee told Medscape Medical News.

While #Coronavirus, #COVID19, and #COVID are unifying hashtags for the global conversation, Lee recommends adding additional hashtags to help cut through the noise and reach your fellow clinicians.

For example, use #MedTwitter to increase the likelihood that your tweet is read by other medical professionals. If you want to speak directly to colleagues in your specialty, add a hashtag like #cardiotwitter if you're a cardiologist or #psychtwitter if you're a psychiatrist.

Include #COVIDfoam or #COVIDfoamed — which bolts the term "free open access meducation" onto a trending coronavirus hashtag — when sharing studies and scientific theory. And consider adding a smaller, more tightly focused hashtag such as #FlattenTheCurve when sharing your thoughts on mitigating the epidemic.

Changing the Term Social Distance Could Bring Us Closer Together

William Dale, MD, a geriatric oncologist at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, California, posted a thoughtful thread on Twitter, asking users to consider replacing the term "social distancing" with "physical distancing."

The words we use can change our perception of a situation, according to Dale.

"People need to maintain a healthy physical distance to avoid transmission of COVID-19, but we need to connect with people emotionally during a time of crisis," Dale told Medscape Medical News.

"Social isolation and loneliness have come to be recognized as grave threats to people's lives, especially the elderly, which is why using either #Distancing or #PhysicalDistancing might send a more emotionally reassuring public health message, Dale said.

#EmotionalConnection or #Connecting could also be used when trying to reach out for support on social media," he added.

Daniel J. Siegel, MD, a neuropsychiatrist and New York Times best-selling author, echoed this thought with a tweet of his own. "#SocialDistancing might be better called #PhysicalDistancing so that we do not forget our vital social connections in the face of #COVID19 and our need to deeply support one another — Presence not panic!"

The idea of "healthy spacing" isn't resonating in the Twittersphere. #Socialdistancing, #shelterinplace, and #quarantine have been steadily trending for weeks.

Help Your Patients Unite Virtually

"Because COVID often feels like a cold complete with muscle aches, I was getting calls and emails from my chronic patients worried that the medications they are taking might mask important symptoms of the illness, Canadian physiatrist, Andrea Furlan, MD, told Medscape Medical News.

Furlan and a group of colleagues decided to hold a #COVIDpain tweet chat earlier this week to address those concerns and bring the community together.

The response was remarkable, Furlan said. The hour-long chat drew more than 1700 participants, including prominent physicians like Fiona Campbell, MD, the president of the Canadian Pain Society. There were more than 3000 tweets in the hour and the hashtag #COVIDpain trended in Canada.

The success inspired Furlan to plan another #COVIDpain tweet chat next Wednesday, March 25, at 7 PM ET. She recommends that other physicians consider finding similar ways to support their patient communities, especially because in-person visits are likely to be scarce for the foreseeable future.

Liz Neporent is Medscape's executive editor of social media and community. She has previously worked at ABC News National as well as other major news outlets. She's based in New York City and can be reached at [email protected] or @lizzyfit on Twitter.

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