Characteristics of Japanese physician influencers on Twitter during the COVID-19 pandemic and fact-checking their tweets on COVID-19-related drugs.
During the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, segments of the public relied on social media platforms such as Twitter for medical information shared by medical personnel. Although physicians are likely to disseminate more accurate information on Twitter than non-medical individuals, it cannot be taken for granted. As such, tweets written by physicians in Japan should also be scrutinized for accuracy. The purpose of this study was to create a profile of the most popular physician influencers on Twitter in Japan, and to do a fact-check of their tweets regarding COVID-19-related drugs. This is a retrospective observational study. We purchased Twitter data for Japan for the initial 9 months of the COVID-19 pandemic (from January 2020 to September 2020), and extracted tweets with keywords related to COVID-19 at a sampling rate of 3%. The most popular physicians were identified and selected consecutively by searching for the top 1000 accounts using Twitter's search function. These top accounts were considered influencers and their tweets and retweets concerning COVID-19-related drugs were fact-checked against scientific literature. We identified 21 physician influencers with real names: most were male in their 40s and 50s working at private medical facilities. The contents of their tweets were mainly sourced from scientific publications that were current at that time. The fact-check revealed that only one of 50 tweets was not correct while the others had no identifiable inaccuracies. Except for one tweet, tweets written and retweeted by Japanese physician influencers concerning the COVID-19-related drugs contained predominantly accurate information.