08 August 2021

Chasing Healthcare Workers Off Twitter: Who are these people?

Those of us advocating for vaccines and masks on Twitter during this pandemic have had some rather interesting replies.

Here is one:

As you can imagine, many of my colleagues are asking- who are these people?

Certainly not the kind people you would meet at a dinner party - for those of us old enough to remember these much loved pre-pandemic events.

CSIS, the Canadian organization responsible for protecting us against security threats, has given one answer about who some of these people might be and by whom they may be influenced.

CSIS has accused “Russia, China and Iran of spreading COVID-19 disinformation to promote their strategic ambitions…COVID-19 misinformation has flourished since the start of the pandemic, fuelling what has been called an “infodemic” of conspiracy theories and falsehoods amid efforts to contain the coronavirus.

“Declassified documents obtained by Global News under the Access to Information Act show that CSIS has been monitoring the national security implications of the phenomenon.

“Threat actors have used the pandemic as an opportunity to spread disinformation online,” CSIS spokesman John Townsend said, “It is important to note that disinformation, originating from anywhere in the world, can have serious consequences including threats to the safety and security of Canadians, erosion of trust in our democratic institutions, and confusion about government policies and notices including information on the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It makes sense that undermining democratic institutions during a deadly pandemic includes undermining any health department both provincially and federally and their attempts to administer vaccines and make mask mandates. To be clear, this is about diminishing our government and nothing diminishes a government like portraying them as responsible for worsening deaths, providing inadequate solutions and flat out lying to the public. 

It would be wise to assume some of the social media misinformation comes from these foreign actors. It would also be wise to assume that discrediting healthcare professionals is one of their aims.

Some accounts on Twitter are influenced by this misinformation - created by foreign actors or concocted by people from our own country who genuinely believe it.

On Twitter, I have watched colleagues deal with anti-vaccine and anti-mask accounts, most of them anonymous. Some appear benign at first. An anonymous account will start with simple questions or tweet things that are incorrect but relatively innocuous. When you respond, it starts a long back and forth and at the end they accuse you of vile things - like killing patients.  This experience is like following a little bunny and getting your foot caught in a trap. 

Personally, I like to answer them with sassiness and I also block these accounts quickly now. Blocking is an important weapon against misinformation - these accounts can’t appear on your tweets and don’t have access to your followers. If more people blocked them, we would diminish their reach substantially. There have been days where even my sassiness fails me and I’m not amused at all. These unpleasant experiences have exhausted and chased many healthcare professionals off Twitter. There is only so much abuse one can take.

There are accounts that are also dangerous in many ways. I worry about my colleagues because of them. Some people behind these accounts spend a great deal of time reporting doctors, nurses and other professionals to their licensing bodies and filling rating sites pretending to be disgruntled patients. Also, some colleagues have had threats against them and their families.

There is nothing that enhances the spread of misinformation like chasing healthcare professionals with accurate information off Twitter, by bothering them, damaging their professional reputations and forcing them to defend themselves to their colleges.

Perhaps we should return to why this is happening. It’s simply healthcare professionals asking people to get vaccinated and wear a mask. If these healthcare professionals get chased off Twitter, who remains to educate and help? During a pandemic the most precious commodity is scientific information - this is what keeps people safe. Distributing false information endangers people’s health and may even kill them.

Everyone tries to figure out, for themselves, how to keep advocating during this pandemic. Personally, my Twitter account - you guessed it - is largely about stories. Not just stories about the pandemic, but stories about many aspects of peoples' lives - I try to highlight the stories others tell and, occasionally, tell my own. 

For the pandemic advocacy that I do, I try to keep my sense of humour, lift up colleagues by highlighting their work, and use my block button. Who knows if any of us individually makes a difference, but I do know that chasing reasonable, science based voices off Twitter is a bad thing during a pandemic.


  1. Oh, Mary, so many thoughts about your Twitter fan. Clearly this person is weak on biology, so an even greater weakness in microbiology isn't surprising.

    Or does the tweeter have difficulty expressing a romantic notion?

    Or are they breeding for the kennel club?

    And they end the tweet on such a polite note. Canadian… √

  2. I limit my time on social networks and end up blocking or unfollowing a lot of people.

  3. You're competing with a thousand loudmouths who tell us the shots are dangerous, experimental, unproven, unpatriotic and can do unpredictable things to our bodies. But it seems you're making a difference.

  4. I think we all have to block the trolls on a regular basis. It's mind boggling how many people say they're the true patriot and then proceed to invective and denial. Hang in there.

  5. In today's Washington Post even the Fox network Kool-Aid drinker Sean Hannity is saying, “Enough people have died. ... And it absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated.”

  6. I am so sorry you are getting such hateful comments- clearly from the frightened and aggressive

  7. I have to apologize to readers. Dr Mary is one of us who has difficulty with the comment system. We're certain it is a Blogger bug, but that's all we know. Thank you for your patience.

  8. It's sad that people use all those hateful words (fuck, bitch). You don't have to agree, but let's treat each other with respect.

  9. Hang in there, Mary. You've got more fans than you have trash-talking morons.

  10. God bless you, Mary. We can only do the best we can do. Please keep doing what you're doing.

  11. You're very successful in getting the truth out to people, especially if you generate so much abrasive and moronic replies. I report accounts as often as I block them. I rarely engage, unless there is someone serious about seeking clarity. (Mind you, that's normally a bait toward a ridiculous exchange.) To the credit of Twitter, they have been suspending accounts I report...but for how long? 12 hour suspensions actually fuel their misinformation efforts. They wear it like a badge of honour. Randy Hillier has had his account suspended at least twice. It should be banned for life. We have to support each other and pressure Twitter to permanently ban these uninformed buffoons. Also, errors in English, Twitter handles that end in 5-6 numbers are reasons I report them to twitter as probable Russians/bots etc. Can't wait for this to be behind us!


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