Dr. Paul Malarik, who spends roughly 50 hours a month administering Covid vaccines at pop-up facilities in San Luis Obispo, California, has referred to the misinformation about vaccination placed on Doximity, a website used by doctors to share research and securely communicate with patients.
“We hardly get to the level of microchips in vaccines, but most of the stuff on Doximity is pretty close to it,” said Malarik, who voluntarily mix vaccines, give shots in arms, and teach the public.
“The social network is actively working against us,” he stated.
Started working in June 2010, Doximity has long called itself LinkedIn for doctors. The company had about 1.8 million members, including 80% of the U.S. physicians, as provided in its IPO prospectus.
According to Doximity, physicians used their website to learned industry trends, share studies, and conduct talks with patients.
Malarik, who worked as a psychiatrist for over two decades, said it’s confusing to follow Doximity’s site or the type of misinformation he expects to see on YouTube and Facebook, where conspiracy theories run wild.
Everyone on the site can be identified, as there’s no anonymity on it. Most of the comments that Malarik specified were posted by people with the initials M.D. or D.O., meaning they’re a doctor of osteopathic medicine. In the posts, they mentioned the vaccines as unproven, experimental, or even dead.
The White House chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was occasionally written “Fauxi” by people on Doximity.
Some posts suggest antibodies from contracting Covid are fairly effective than mRNA vaccines. According to commenters, they instruct human cells to develop specific proteins that create an immune response to fight against the disease.
Although allowed to use under FDA’s emergency use authorizations, mRNA vaccines clinically have proven highly efficient against Covid-19. The Food and Drug Administration and CDC declared they’re safe, useful, and recommended for people 12 and older, even for those who have tested positive.
President Joe Biden and Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Rochelle Walensky have explained the ongoing state as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
While scrolling down the Doximity news feed, Malarik stops on a June story from New York Times. The story is still featured, with the title reads, “A judge dismisses Houston hospital workers’ lawsuit about vaccine mandates.”
Hundreds of comments by Doximity users have been posted under the story. Below is what a surgeon wrote:
“The vaccines have already killed more than 4000 adults who’ve taken them,” the post said, mimicking a debunked remark by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. “To mandate a vaccine that has killed more than 4,000 is akin to murder,” Carlson said.
Many doctors shared almost the same experience about those comments, as revealed by Malarik. They rate it an outlier and said that many of the posts are factually inauthentic and often grounded on conspiracy theories.
The screenshots and descriptions of posts submitted by various doctors suggest that stories on less politically disruptive topics have only a few comments, if any at all.
“Everyone is coming on the articles they can clash about,” said Malarik.
A 5% decrease in Doximity’s shares was observed on Friday morning.
The problem of content moderation
Medical misinformation forms a critical challenge for Doximity, as the San Francisco-based company stays growing its users being a high-quality source of reliable data while also maneuvering the tricky streams of content optimization.
Next week, Doximity will be showing its quarterly earnings for the very first time since it went public. The company kept the operating cost low and has been in profit in each of the last three years.
Is Doximity open to everyone?
Not anyone can join Doximity, as it is not an open social network. One must be a practicing U.S. healthcare professional to join Doximity. Whenever someone applies to join it, the company verifies applicants by photo recognition of a medical license, a badge from the hospital, emails from medical bodies, and via challenge questioning, among other techniques.
Doximity, like LinkedIn, generates income by means of sponsored content and from recruiters, who look for talent through the site. The service is fully focused on medical experts, with marketing dollars earns largely from hospitals and drug companies, finding potential users through animated videos and sponsored articles on the news feed.
Last year, Doximity made roughly 80% of its revenue from its marketing products.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other trendy social media websites, Doximity doesn’t allow posting stories. It only showcases articles from science and medical publications and mainstream news outlets. Additionally, the feed of every user is customized based on their medical expertise and other personal information.
“Based on the members’ profiles and their reading interests, we present content from multiple sources, using both clinical editors and algorithms,” Doximity said in its prospectus. “We also accumulate connections to relevant articles from a range of different sources, including specialist websites and medical journals that a member might otherwise need to search for separately.
The site allows users to earn medical education credits by simply reading specific eligible articles. In some conditions, doctors need to obtain a certain number of credits every year to maintain their licenses.
One of the major sources of medical misinformation on Doximity is users’ ability to comment on the posts. For instance, a recent article on kids’ masking mandate got the fury of some of the doctors who decline the vaccines. A surgeon commented that “getting children to wear masks is wholly ridiculous and a kind of child abuse.”
“CDC’s 50 years of data accumulation revealed those masks to have offered no difference. None,” another doctor commented.
The masks can help reduce the spread of Covid-19 is a recommendation frequently stated by both scientists and public health groups.
The rise in hospitalizations due to the increase in Covid and delta variant cases has led multiple U.S. states to reinstitute mask mandates.
Doximity has rules to prohibit any misinformation that violates its community guidelines. Among the company’s 11 things that can lead to content being dismissed, including the “spread of misleading or false information.” A separate section on the guidelines’ page of the website addressing “content that opposes widely accredited public health codes.”
Seven bullet points on the site describe the type of posts that will be removed. They include content that “promotes unverified assertions about the effectiveness, side effects, or other implications of FDA-approved vaccines” and that “promotes wrong data about causalities, infection rates, and hospitalizations connected with infectious disease.”
“While we support a sharing of ideas about the latest medical news and emerging science, we explicitly prohibit posting any medical misinformation on the site,” the company said in an emailed statement.
According to Doximity, it maintains a high focus on its community guidelines to ensure that the website remains a secure and respectful place.
Staffed by physicians, a rigorous clinical review process is employed by Doximity to evaluate comments that are identified as being potential misinformation.
Doctors act as a powerful platform in society
The threat to doctors goes well ahead of any possible action taken by Doximity, as a national nonprofit organization, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) released a statement, informing doctors that they can lose their license for prevailing any medical misinformation.
“Physicians involved in the creation and promotion of Covid-related misinformation or disinformation are provoking disciplinary action from state medical boards. Those actions can result in the revocation or suspension of their medical license,” the FSMB told.
“Due to their training and specialized knowledge, licensed physicians hold a high level of trust among the public and therefore have an influential platform in society, whether they aware of it or not.”
The FSMB has reported responding against the “dramatic surge” in the dissemination of inaccurate information by physicians on social media and elsewhere. However, the organization isn’t actively sourcing sites for misleaders.
According to FSMB, it’s operating on a “complaint-driven” system and making use of a free tool called Docinfo.org that enables anyone to find details about a doctor and file a complaint.
Doximity, as a company, has also tried to keep users aware of Covid-19 developments, cures, and vaccines. Initially, during the pandemic, the company introduced a private Covid-19 newsroom for doctors to receive recommendations and updates and to discuss healthy practices.
The company, in early 2021, launched its video telehealth service for clinicians to interact with patients remotely.
Members can also publish their personal stories and opinion pieces on Doximity’s sister website, Op-Med. Several doctors have written posts touting the vaccines with titles like “How the Covid vaccine has altered my life (so far)” and “How giving vaccinations revive my love of practicing medicine.”
But deciding how to keep a balance between providing a platform for a healthy online discussion and letting false information multiply is a problem that has puzzled social outlets for years. It’s particularly crucial in matters of life and death.