Friday, December 7, 2018

How a single tweet from the NRA helped ACP reach millions of people on gun violence

On November 7, the National Rifle Association tweeted this about ACP’s new policy paper on firearms violence, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine:

Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.

As a co-author of the ACP paper, I immediately posted a reply to the NRA:

Passing laws to stop kids from getting shot by unsecured guns, reducing the lethality of mass shootings, keeping guns from domestic violence offenders who will use them to kill their intended victims—oh yes, these are all in doctor’s lanes.  Like any other public health threat. 

Within hours, thousands of physicians tweeted why gun violence was in their lane, accompanied by the hash tags #ThisIsOurLane and #ThisIsMyLane.  Many included graphic photos of the carnage and blood they’ve experienced in treating gunshot patients; I continued to tweet often on the topic, sharing their testimonials and information about ACP’s policy recommendations.

I just learned that in the past 4 weeks since I first replied to the NRA, my tweets on ACP’s behalf reached 8,300,000 people!  Think about that: 1 tweet from the NRA, resulted in more than 8 million people being exposed to ACP’s advocacy message on gun violence (and a few other topics sprinkled into my tweets) in just 30 days.  Never before has my efforts to spread the word on ACP advocacy garnered so much visibility.

Yet it’s hardly just me that helped get the word out.  As of this hour, there are over 23,000 responses to the NRA’s original tweet, overwhelmingly in support of physicians’ speaking out on gun violence. The backlash from physicians has received extraordinary coverage in the mainstream press, from the New York Times (Doctors Revolt After NRA Tells Them to ‘Stay in Their Lane on Gun Policy’), to the WallStreet Journal (After NRA Rebuke, Many Doctors Speak Louder on Gun Violence), to CNN (Doctors Start Movement in Response to the NRA, calling for more gun research), to NPR (After NRA Mocks Doctors, Physicians Reply: This Is Our Lane)—and hundreds more print, digital, cable and TV outlets.  That the NRA’s tweet appeared just hours before another mass shooting at a Florida night club, and just a few weeks before another one at a hospital in Chicago, no doubt contributed to physicians’ fervor to take them on, and the coverage that resulted. 

Altmetric, a firm that tracks how much attention published research is getting from the news and social media, found that Annals’ publication of ACP’s firearms policy paper is now one of the top attention-getters, all time, of the millions of research outlets it has tracked:

Altmetric has tracked 12,258,221 research outputs across all sources so far. Compared to these, this one has done particularly well and is in the 99th percentile: it's in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.  [Ranked 224 out of more than 12 million research outputs, and #2 out of the over 10,000 research outputs published by Annals and tracked by the firm.]

The NRA’s attack on physician advocacy on gun violence has also spawned editorials from physicians in the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals, including in Annals (Firearm Injury Prevention: AFFIRMing That Doctors Are in Our Lane,  co-authored by Annals editors Drs. Christine Laine and Darren Taichman, and Dr. Sue Bornstein, chair of ACP’s Health and Public Policy Committee); and in  NEJM (#ThisIsOurLane — Firearm Safety as Health Care’s Highway, co-authored by Drs. Megan Ranney, Marian Betz, and Cedric Dark).

For too long, the NRA has dictated much of the debate over gun violence, bullying those who offered other ideas.  No longer: the NRA has awakened a sleeping giant, the hundreds of thousands of physicians and their professional societies who feel both obligated and emboldened to speak out on the dangers to the health of their patients of unrestricted access to firearms.  Now, the challenge and opportunity going forward is for ACP, and other professional societies that share our commitment to reducing gun violence, to make sure that This Is Our Lane becomes a sustained movement, not just a moment.

Today’s question: What do you think about physicians’ and ACP’s response to the NRA and the This Is Our Lane movement?