Nathalie Grandvaux, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at UdeM, has been on social media since March 2020, promoting adherence to public health measures.
In March 2020, when the pandemic hit Quebec, Nathalie Grandvaux realized that some of her loved ones lacked the information to understand what was happening. She took to her keyboard and went on social media to inform the public about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its effects.
A specialist in viral respiratory infections, Grandvaux made it her mission to explain why the government-decreed health measures were necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Her social media presence also attracted the attention of journalists at conventional media outlets. She has since given countless interviews and appeared on science programs such as Les années lumières, Carbone and Moteur de recherche.
Grandvaux is the Associate Scientific Director of Student and Postdoctoral Affairs and Director of the Host/Virus Interaction Lab at the CHUM Research Centre. She has more than 3,500 Twitter followers.
To follow her, click on @NGrandvaux.
Why was it important for you to participate in discussions about the fine points of COVID-19?
I wanted to explain the risks this infectious disease posed—and still poses—as well as the concepts of infection, inflammatory response and antiviral response, which are my research areas. The public reaction was very positive, which reinforced my belief that I could help people understand the situation and promote better individual risk management by discussing the protective effects of health measures and the importance of adherence by as many people as possible. Social media was a way to reach a wider audience.
What is your objective in posting on social media?
I believe that if you give people solid evidence in an accessible, understandable form, they will be better equipped to handle the situation. This pandemic is invisible to many people. That was especially true during the first waves. Few people knew anyone who had contracted COVID-19, and the virus is invisible until it affects someone you know. It is crucial for people to have accurate, science-based information so they can grasp the risk to themselves and others, and understand the reasons for the public health measures. A lot of disinformation cropped up, especially on social media, and I thought it was important to help put verified scientific information out there.
Are you trying to reach the people spreading disinformation or the people who might believe it?
I am not addressing the disinformers. Unfortunately, they’re not very open to discussion. I like to debate ideas, but often there is little room for discussion with disinformation. I try to provide the most reliable, best-documented information possible while respecting other opinions. I believe that the vast majority of people can recognize quality information.
Are you concerned that the disinformers are gaining ground?
They most certainly are and we see it on social media. People buy into their discourse for many reasons. But we can’t give up and leave them all the space. There has to be a very present counterweight based on verified, quality information.
What is your strategy to avoid getting drawn into quarrels?
Respect. I read a lot of very harsh comments about the disinformers and the people who believe the disinformation. This is exactly the style of argument the disinformers use to discredit other sources and I think it’s a mistake to go that way when dealing with disinformation. People believe false facts for all sorts of reasons and the best way to open a discussion is to treat them with respect.
When someone responds aggressively to your comments, how do you react?
One advantage of social media and email is that you have time to think before you respond. Sometimes I write an impulsive response just to vent, but I don’t send it. I don’t answer aggressive comments; I ignore them. I don’t tolerate aggression. If the person disagrees and makes arguments, I’ll discuss it. I’m a tenacious debater; I can be relentless if I’m convinced I’m dealing with misinformation.
What advice do you have for colleagues who want to comment on social media?
My main advice is to stick to providing evidence-based information and avoid opinionated comments as much as possible, even if journalists sometimes push us in that direction. Another important point is to avoid personal attacks. Social media lend themselves to ad hominem comments but we absolutely must avoid this route. It is better to criticize ideas: we need to fight disinformation and promote quality information by providing counter-arguments.