Social Media: Friend or Foe? / Médias sociaux: Amis ou Ennemis?

Is social media friend or foe of evidence? Social media tools are increasingly used to amplify medical debates and maximize engagement around research and evidence. But where is the evidence that social media works for knowledge mobilization?
Les médias sociaux sont-ils les amis ou les ennemis des données probantes ? Ils sont de plus en plus employés pour amplifier les débats dans le domaine médical ainsi que pour accroitre le recours à la recherche et aux données probantes. Mais où sont les preuves que les médias sociaux sont réellement utiles pour la mobilisation des connaissances.
Is social media friend or foe of evidence?  That was the question posed to a panel at the Canadian Association of Health Services and Policy Research annual meeting in rainy, rainy Halifax on May 11, 2011. David Phipps of ResearchImpact-York shared this panel with David Clements (Canadian Institute of Health Information) and Rob Fraser, Nursing grad student and author of The Nurse’s Social Media Advantage. The panel followed a plenary presentation by Andreas Laupacis, Executive Director, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Andreas used the case studies of Liberation Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis and the Herceptin story of Jill Anzarut to illustrate the emerging role of social media in the evidence dialogue among patients, their advocates and the health care system(s). Andreas’ conclusion was that social media risks privileging anecdote over evidence; therefore, it is incumbent on scientists to participate in social media or risk becoming marginalized. As one audience member put it “social media has burst the scientific research bubble and we no longer have the option to not use it”.
This set up the following panel which explored the role of social media in knowledge translation, “The Changing Landscape of KT: Social Media, Friend or Foe of Expert Knowledge?” David Clements started out by sketching the big picture of social media in research and evidence. Rob Fraser provided his reflections as someone who uses social media and is considering what it means to use social media tools in research: to collect data, share data and ideas, engage with stakeholders and disseminate results. David Phipps presented two case studies from ResearchImpact-York. We have written about Mobilizing Minds: Pathways to Young Adult Mental Health, most recently on November 8, 2010. David presented the new Mobilizing Minds video of young adults presenting the results of Mobilizing Minds research. Young adults expressed interest in receiving information about mental health from a variety of sources including online media.  
David also presented the results of Project Teen Moms, a CIHR funded collaboration among ResearchImpact-York, Children’s Aid Society of York Region and Kinark Child and Family Services. The results of this study were also presented in a video that arose out of the final project meeting held November 2010. We have previously written about some of the participants’ impressions of the use of social media to broker research and KMb relationships. The video shows that barriers to the use of social media include time and familiarity with the tools. The video also shows that social media can break down barriers between research and practice, connect researchers to practitioners and maximize the opportunity for practice to inform research. The barriers could be overcome with time and training.
These two examples use video posted on the social media site, You Tube, to present research results in a unique format but they also practice one of the basic principles of knowledge mobilization: know your audience and speak in their language. When speaking about social media it is important to speak using social media. You can see David Phipps’ presentation via SlideShare below.
The discussion about friend or foe of evidence continued after the session. Social media should never replace evidence. Social media can be used to amplify and engage the evidence. I have previously written that social media complements, it does not replace, peer review. But when researching social media itself, sometimes the medium is the evidence.
Thank you Marshall McLuhan.
[slideshare id=7999016&doc=cahsprpresentation-110517125640-phpapp01]