Are Doctors Causing Trouble by Tweeting at Conventions?

Leigh Page


January 10, 2018

In This Article

A Tweeting Revolt

Twitter users had much to say about the ADA's annual meeting, the 77th Scientific Sessions, which took place on June 9-13, 2017, in San Diego, California.

At the meeting, ADA staff asked attendees not to tweet until after each presentation was over and not to take any photos of slides, and they vigorously enforced the latter rule. When Twitter users posted photos anyway, staff asked them to take them down, but many attendees refused to do so, according to a Medscape account of the meeting.[20]

The Twittersphere reacted against these actions. Tweets about the ADA meeting logged 108.8 million impressions, and of the top 100 tweets, 68 were about the photo ban, according to an analysis of ADA meeting tweets.[21]

The ADA's stance against Twitter users at the 2017 meeting was in part a reaction to events at its 2016 meeting. The meeting featured a presentation of findings on the new diabetes drug Victoza®. Attendees were allowed to view information on the drug before it was to be officially launched to the public later on.

Owing to the sensitive nature of the information, ADA staff asked attendees not to pass on information yet, but within minutes, pictures of the slides were up on Twitter, according to an account of the meeting.[22]

ADA staff immediately went on Twitter and asked that the tweets be taken down, but by that time it was too late. The information had already been retweeted.

The ADA approached the 2017 meeting vowing to strictly limit Twitter use. The policy statement for the meeting declared that taking photos of slides "is prohibited, considered intellectual piracy, and unethical."[14]

After the 2017 meeting, an ADA official said the organization would "reevaluate" its social media policy and "our legal obligations to the researchers."[23]

Will Twitter Erode Attendance?

Meeting-based Twitter not only attracts virtual attendees who would never have physically attended the meeting, but it may also be attracting attendees away from the physical meeting. So far, however, the smattering of attendance figures publicly available do not reveal any definite trend.

The ADA, for one, seems to be seeing constant increases in attendance in recent years, despite—or perhaps because of—its stance against Twitter use. According to yearly reports from different sources, ADA attendance grew from 13,400 in 2014 to 20,000 in 2017.[24,25,26] This would be a 49.2% increase in 3 years.

Most medical societies don't publicly report conference attendance, but among the few that do, attendance has generally been flat or even falling somewhat. Attendance at the American Thoracic Society dropped 1.8% in 2017.[27] And attendance at the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) dropped 10.3% in 2016, the latest reported year.[28]

This sampling is obviously too small to draw any conclusions. Falling attendance may be due to other factors, such as a less interesting lineup of speakers than the year before. Determining the impact of Twitter on attendance will be up to future studies to explore.


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