Boston University School of Public Health Stops Using Twitter
A justified choice or performative theater? And does it advance public health?
Boston University School of Public Health’s Dean, Sandro Galea, recently announced that BU has reconsidered its engagement on twitter. Going forward, “we will, as a School, be disengaging from our Twitter account @busph. Relatedly, I will also suspend my personal @sandrogalea account.”
Is this decision a rational one— proportionate to challenges on the online platform—or is it performative? The dean himself wonders, “I always worry that decisions like this can seem overly performative. I hope that this is indeed right given the current landscape of Twitter.”
Most importantly, does it advance public health’s credibility? Does it help the profession in the eyes of the public? In this essay, I consider these questions.
In order to analyze BU’s decision we need to consider two things. First, what platforms will BU remain on, and second, what are the stated reasons for leaving?
BU school of public health has singled out twitter as the social media platform to disengage from, but remains on other platforms, including “email newsletter, SPH This Week, Public Health Post, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, press outreach, our website, as well as other emerging channels.” Scrolling through past stories it is clear that press outreach can include small papers, including the Staten Island Live, and other news outlets that frankly I have never heard of.
Thus, there must be something uniquely disqualifying about Twitter that does not apply to all these other venues.
Let’s consider those reasons. Dean Galea offers “two key” ones.
#1 Dean Galea writes, “First, Twitter has moved from being a publicly held company to being a privately held company, and, in particular, a company controlled by one person who has not been hesitant to impose his personal views on the platform.”
In other words: we are quitting Twitter is because one person makes the decisions. This argument is clearly lacking.
Facebook is a publicly traded company, but the desires of the founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have tremendous sway over their decisions. Whether public or private— decisions can always be made by one or two people, without transparency and often in illogical and contradictory fashion. How does Linkedin make decisions? Instagram? Staten Island Live? What about all those news outlets I have never heard of? Who knows!
Dean Galea senses the obvious weakness of this argument, and thus offers further clarification, “That may well be acceptable if that person shows themselves to be judicious and thoughtful in both their communication and actions, but that has not been the case with Mr. Musk.”
So it isn’t merely that a single person makes the decisions, but that they are not judicious and thoughtful? Yet, even with this clarification, the argument to quit seems thin.
BU School of Public Health remains happy to amplify their content in Staten Island Live. That is owned by a company called Advanced Local Media. Who controls this company? Are they judicious and thoughtful? Does BU have obligation to investigate?
Rupert Murdoch owns many US papers including the Wall Street Journal, a place where Dean Galea has authored op-eds. In fact, Galea’s bio lists him as a “regular contributor to media, including” the Wall Street Journal. Is Murdoch judicious and thoughtful? I think many at BU public health would disagree.
Let’s turn to reason #2. “Second, while Elon Musk’s comments on Twitter have long been provocative, he has increasingly been veering into the use of language and tone that is unacceptable.”
Specifically, Galea is upset that Musk has called for the prosecution of Anthony Fauci. Galea writes, “He also incites opprobrium against a public health professional, Dr. Fauci, who has served the country well for decades through challenging times. Given the potential for actual violence to emerge from social media instigation, this tweet seems to me to be tantamount to endangering others.”
But here is what I am confused about. If Elon tweets prosecute Fauci— does that mean he wishes violence upon Fauci, or, as he states, a legal prosecution? If Elon tweeted instead prosecute Trump— is that violence against Trump? Moreover, would Dean Galea object or cheer him on?
Is criticism in and of itself incitement of violence, and if so, isn’t Dean Galea’s entire essay inciting violence on Elon? What if someone read ‘BU quits Twitter’ and wants to do something violent to Musk? Just this week, Musk reports that an attacker jumped on the hood of a car with his child in it, assuming Musk was present. Non stop critical news coverage of Musk doesn’t help, I would imagine.
If Elon Musk criticizes Fauci it is inciting actual violence, but not if he criticizes Trump? And if you criticize Elon for criticizing Fauci— that is fine, it is in no way inciting violence against Elon?
Criticism I like is necessary, and criticism I don’t like risks violence? This logic is troubling, and chilling. It clearly fails.
The second concern here is that once again, we risk sanctifying Fauci rather than providing a balanced analysis of his strengths and weaknesses. Recently, an anonymous East Coast Professor wrote for on my Substack, “The Infectious Diseases world has decided to embrace and venerate Dr. Fauci rather than provide a balanced critique of his performance during the pandemic.” Adding:
Dr. Fauci changed his guidance on universal masking in public within a matter of 6 weeks at the beginning of the pandemic when not a single shred of new scientific evidence on this topic had been published in the interim. He either lied the first time or the second time. My own view of the matter is that he said then, and continues to say now, that which he believes is the politically expedient, somewhat left of center position, which he will change in subtle ways based on his reading of the public's mood.
Public health needs to be honest about Dr. Fauci. He can both someone who has done important things, but also a flawed man, unwilling to relinquish power (holding a leadership role for decades till his 80s), who made horrific errors during the pandemic, particularly his rhetoric on schools, and who refuses to admit to those errors, or face accountability. This can all be true, and science and discourse demands being able to discuss it honestly.
Public Health has to be for everyone, not just far left democrats.
Public health has a huge problem. In the mind of the public, it is increasingly an extension of extreme liberal politics. It is the woke-wing of the Democratic’s #FollowTheScience. Political considerations appear to trump evidence and reason.
US Public health wanted to mask 2 year olds— not because data supported that choice— but because it was the most extreme political counter-reaction to Trump. US public health refused to listen to WHO or UNICEF. US Public health wanted to close schools merely because Trump wanted to open them— even if it meant horrific consequences to a generation of children. Public health professors routinely tweet open endorsements of Democratic candidates, but, let me be clear, I have never once seen a faculty member at a US school of public health tweet support for a Republican.
I worry that Dean Galea’s essay just deepens this polarization. He writes, “It is also important to acknowledge how our choice to leave Twitter reflects a degree of privilege on our part, in our expectation of having other places to go for our communications.” Is the implication here that some people lack the privilege to quit twitter? As far as I can tell the privilege to not use social media is something that all people enjoy, and as such, I wouldn’t even call it a privilege. You can always do your talking by talking.
Public health now more than ever needs to show that it is not merely an extension of liberal politics. Public health is about using data, and acknowledging tradeoffs to improve human health. Public health is not an arm of the police state— and never should have been. It should empower children, not mask them (particularly when data are lacking). It should push for schools to be open not closed. It should treat Fauci fairly— not as a God, but a man, and one who made deep mistakes.
Schools of public health should not quit twitter for thin reasons, particularly when the root of the disagreement seems merely that Elon is not woke enough for them. Criticizing people who made massive policy choices is not inciting violence. Even calling for their prosecution is not inciting violence. You are criticizing Elon, and he is criticizing Fauci— that’s all fine! None of that is violence.
I worry that we are on the precipice of a great fracture. Science is poised to be split in two. Two different sciences each working inside political parties. Dean Galea’s action just furthers this polarization. That’s why I think it was the wrong call.
I for one will resist turning science into politics. I am a liberal Democrat who’s allegiance is only to data— that’s how I know it the left made horrific errors with COVID policy that it needs to take ownership of. Schools is so horrific an error that we may never be able to repent. I can admit that, and so can the anonymous east coast ID professor. I wish more scientists and public health experts would be honest about it too. That’s a much better use of one’s time that performatively quitting Twitter.