Epidemiologists of Social Media

WGL 2021-Jessica Malaty-Rivera
Courtesy of Ericka McConnell
  • Title
  • Affiliation

Early on in the pandemic, millions of people became armchair epidemiologists overnight, tirelessly (or sleeplessly) devouring nuanced, evolving information about the coronavirus and translating it for their online networks. Some of those sources, of course, were far more reliable than others: Many medical professionals, from infectious disease experts to doctors in the field, parlayed their knowledge into public service announcements for rapidly growing follower bases. Some have been particularly effective and accessible: Jessica Malaty Rivera, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the science communication lead for the COVID Tracking Project, regularly answers ask-me-anything Q&As via her Instagram stories, where she dispels common misconceptions (“Does the COVID vaccine elevate cholesterol?”) and empathetically shares how her young family is adapting. Malaty Rivera has appeared on national and local broadcast news, Instagram Lives with Sophia Bush and Sheryl Sandberg, and the cover of Parents magazine. Another reliable voice is Ellie Murray, a.k.a. @EpiEllie, who is known for animating simple illustrations in her educational videos. Throughout the past year-plus, the associate epidemiology professor at Boston University has outlined a #ContactBudget points system that individuals can use to assess exposure risk. She helped create a safety tips flier for Black Lives Matter protesters, and even began selling merch (masks, mugs, totes, shirts), with sales benefiting the COVID Corps research and education team at BU.