Medic slams Twitter and Facebook's decision to block ads promoting his COVID-19 lectures

David Murphy

An A&E doctor and online medical information specialist has hit out at Facebook and Twitter for blocking his attempts to provide vital guidance to frontline critical care staff battling COVID-19 in Britain’s hospitals.

In response to the pandemic, Dr Eoghan Colgan, who works at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary, collected and offered for free a series of Coronavirus-relevant lectures which would have been of immediate benefit at a time when critical care staffing is being supplemented by medical professionals from other disciplines.

Through Continulus, the online video-learning platform for health professionals which Dr Colgan also runs, nurses and doctors coping with the current crisis were being offered lectures by global experts on mechanical ventilation, acute respiratory distress syndrome, fluids, managing stress, and more.

However, Facebook and Twitter, the main vehicles through which Dr Colgan is able to reach a wide audience, blocked his posts regarding the lectures on the grounds of “unacceptable business practice”. Facebook did eventually unblock the ad promoting the lectures, after a delay of a couople of days while a manual review took place. 

Dr Colgan, originally from Northern Ireland and now resident in Glasgow, founded Continulus (formerly MedReach) in 2016 to provide equal access to medical education around the globe and to facilitate carbon-neutral continuing professional development.

He said: “I wholly understand the social media companies’ fear of misinformation in the current COVID-19 climate and their need to screen out people with malicious intent, but their mechanism for doing this is far too extreme.

“As the outbreak developed and the NHS ramped up its defensive efforts, we realised we had a major archive of online material which would help, for instance, general nurses to upskill to critical care. It would have been remiss of us not to make that freely available.

“At a time when conferences across the world have been cancelled, Facebook and Twitter need to be cognisant that people like us are trying to help. Instead their AI detects certain phrases and words and imposes a blanket ban.

“They seem to operate a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ model, where the AI blocks the ad when they are suspicious, rather than referring for a manual review and then blocking if the manual reviewer agrees.”

Dr Colgan, whose company is a corporate member of the CPD Certification Service in the UK and an approved provider of CME/CE credits in the USA, had three time-sensitive online lectures blocked by both Facebook and Twitter, despite requesting a manual review.

“We needed to get the information out quickly,” he said “It would have been relevant and beneficial not only to UK NHS staff, but also to tens of thousands of medical professionals around the world who are fighting this disease.”

Continulus operates by charging a modest fee in in high-income countries, a lower fee in middle-income countries and it provides its services free in low-income countries. It also donates a significant proportion of its profits to healthcare projects in low-resource countries.

We have contacted Facebook and Twitter for their reaction to Dr. Colgan's claims. Twitter have been back to ask for more details, no response as yet from Facebook. We will update this post when we hear back from them. 

Twitter have now come back to us. A spokesperson said: "The promoted Tweets were removed for violating our Inappropriate Content Policy. In the case of COVID-19, we have put additional safeguards into place in order to facilitate the sharing of trusted public health information and to reduce potential harm to users."