Why Twitter is Backfiring on Dr. Hinshaw
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
For over seven months, we have been following daily case counts of coronavirus because they give us a quick report card on how we're doing. If numbers are trending down, we feel like our efforts are working to flatten the curve. If they're going the other direction, we know people have to do better.
As numbers in Alberta headed north over the last week or so, I've noticed how Alberta Health Services and the face of the pandemic in Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, have been telling a different story.
Daily case count numbers have been taking a back seat, all in an attempt by the government to control the COVID message, but it's not helping the image of Dr. Hinshaw.
At the start of the pandemic, Alberta Health Services (AHS) decided Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw should have a Twitter account.
It made sense. It’s a great way to communicate. Eight months later, she has around 100,000 followers and has sent over 2,000 Tweets. Her messages also bring a huge amount of engagement. Some of it is positive, but lately many of the comments have been negative, as Albertans grow increasingly frustrated by what they see as politics snubbing science. Hinshaw is caught in the middle.
People need to understand though, it’s not Dr. Hinshaw sending those Tweets. It’s AHS Communications people. It’s rare for people in her position to be active on social media. The same goes for many politicians. Justin Trudeau doesn’t send his own Tweets. His aides are saddled with the responsibility of writing what they think he would say, in both of Canada's official languages.
There’s one big exception to this rule – Donald Trump. He uses Twitter to try to bypass mainstream media. The Twitter account of his rival Joe Biden however, is handled by aides. If there was any doubt, during last week’s debate, tweets from Biden were appearing on his timeline as he was trading barbs with Trump. I did see him glance at his watch, but I didn’t see him whip out his iPhone and send a couple of Tweets during the debate.
Let’s get back to Dr. Hinshaw. Last week I noticed a real change in the way daily update numbers were being handled in her Twitter feed.
In the past, updates to the daily case counts for COVID19 were featured prominently in her Tweets. After all, that’s what the media has been focused on. Like it or not, daily case counts provide a quick report card on how we’re doing as a province, especially now with the numbers going through the roof.
Here was her Tweet from last Tuesday. You’ll notice she doesn’t bring up the scary number of 323 new cases until she talks about the positive news of recoveries and tests.
I noticed the change in approach right away and Tweeted “You buried the lede. Let me fix it. We had 323 new cases today, the 4th highest daily total ever and as a result, hospitalizations are getting dangerously high.”
Many others who read my response must have agreed. Within a few hours, 26 people retweeted what I wrote and twice as many liked the comment. The people aren’t fooled either.
A couple of days later, Hinshaw’s Twitter account was at it again – ignoring more than 400 daily cases for the first time and instead talking about Halloween first.
It’s now clear that Dr. Hinshaw’s Twitter feed is trying to play down daily case count numbers and focus on other aspects of the virus. As a former member of the news media for many years and somebody who studies the way issues are managed, this is a clear attempt by AHS to try to control the message, as COVID numbers in Alberta go through the roof.
In fairness, the order of the information in Hinshaw's Tweets matches how she has presented the information at her latest news conference, as she reads prepared statements from her communication team before taking questions from reporters. As a result, burying the numbers is a change in approach at her media conferences as well.
I feel sorry for Dr. Hinshaw. She’s not writing those messages, but a lot of the people who read them don’t know that.
Trying to Control the Message
I wonder if there’s something bigger at play here than just some AHS communications people trying to control the message?
In the US, Donald Trump has basically done his best to distance himself from the virus and recently talked about the country “Rounding the corner” even though it saw daily records for the number of new cases last week. Sound familiar Alberta?
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has also distanced himself from the virus. He hasn’t been at a news conference with Dr. Hinshaw for months. It’s clear he still supports children going back into the same classrooms even though around 400 schools have reported cases, according to the Support Our Schools Alberta website. It’s clear he doesn’t want to shut down any portion of the Alberta economy.
That’s why it makes sense for AHS to focus on everything else about the virus, other than the numbers, especially with new daily case counts showing record numbers three days in a row and a record number of active cases five days running. The number of hospitalizations in Alberta is the highest ever and the percentage of people testing positive is the highest since May.
I think you’ll agree, all those numbers are more important than once again telling Albertans it’s okay for their kids to go trick or treating.
It’s almost like saying, “I know we have used daily cases counts to show how we’re doing for months, but now that they’re getting really bad, let’s talk about recoveries, testing and trick or treating instead.”
I can see through it and I’m pretty sure Albertans can too.
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