Alexis C. Madrigal
Even if you avoid the conspiracy theories, tweeting through a global emergency is messy, context-free, and disorienting
A few minutes before 11 p.m. on January 20, Eric Feigl-Ding was pretty much just another guy on the internet. Sure, he is a Harvard-affiliated public-health researcher who lives in Washington, D.C., and has multiple degrees, but his Twitter account was nothing special. He had about 2,000 followers—a modest count on a scale that reaches into the millions—and his average tweet got about one retweet and five likes.
That all changed when Feigl-Ding read a paper about the new coronavirus spreading out of Wuhan, China, and spotted an eye-popping stat. The paper estimated that the virus’s contagiousness, which is captured in a variable called R0, was 3.8—meaning that every person who caught the disease would give it to almost 4 other people. The paper cautioned that there was “considerable uncertainty associated with the outbreak,” but Feigl-Ding still worried that such a highly transmissible disease would be a key ingredient in the recipe for a major pandemic. “I read that 3.8 value and I was like: ‘Oh my gosh!’” he told me. “I tweeted it out.”
Image Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters