“A Light Switch in the #Brain”: Optogenetics on Social Media
Neuroscience communication is increasingly taking place on multidirectional social media platforms, creating new opportunities but also calling for critical ethical considerations. Twitter, one of the most popular social media applications in the world, is a leading platform for the dissemination of all information types, including emerging areas of neuroscience such as optogenetics, a technique aimed at the control of specific neurons. Since its discovery in 2005, optogenetics has been featured in the public eye and discussed extensively on social media, but little is known about how this new technique is portrayed and who the users participating in the conversation are. To address this gap, we conducted content analysis of a sample of 1000 tweets mentioning “optogenetics” over a one-year period between 2014 and 2015. We found that academic researchers are the largest group contributing to the conversation, that the tweets often contain links to third-party websites from news organizations and peer-reviewed journals, and that common thematic motifs include the applications of optogenetics specifically for the control of brain activity and the treatment of disease. We also found that the majority of the tweets are neutral in their tone regarding optogenetics. As Twitter serves as a current and dynamic forum for exchange about advances in neuroscience, the conversation about optogenetics on this engaging platform can inform socially-responsive knowledge dissemination efforts in this area.