Saturday, May 2, 2009

Twitter Outbreak: Public Warning

ALERT! All Twitter users should wear masks while tweeting due to outbreak.

Some observers say Twitter, a micro-blogging site where users post 140-character messages, has become a hotbed of unnecessary hype and misinformation about the outbreak, which is thought to have claimed more than 100 lives in Mexico.

"This is a good example of why Twitter is headed in the wrong direction, because it's just propagating fear among people, as opposed to seeking actual solutions or key information," said Brennon Slattery, a contributing writer for PC World.

I don't know what Brennon Slattery has against Twitter, but, he certainly doesn't propagate the responsibility of confused and incorrect information where it truly falls: with the media and the Obama administration. We hear so many different accounts of the severity and the actions taken, it makes your head spin.

The President says on one hand, we should take the illness and the spreading of it seriously, but, not to over-react. On the other hand, Joe Biden states on national television he won't let any of his family members fly or use any mass transit travel. Within the hour, the administration is releasing a statement through a press conference, "That's not what Joe meant". But, that is what he said. Brings you back to the campaign, doesn't it? Press Corp could not stop laughing.

A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, said that the online buzz about swine flu is a good sign. It means people are talking about the issue, and that's the first step toward learning how to reasonably protect yourself.

"I think it's generally a useful development, but I would encourage people to look to other sources, especially established, recognized medical authorities," said Glen Nowak, chief of media relations at the CDC. "It shows that people are engaged and they care and that it's caught their attention, and those are all good things."

Several dozen cases of swine flu worldwide have been confirmed by the World Health Organization and hundreds more are feared. That information needs to be put in context by journalists, especially given the fact that so many deaths from the common flu occur each year and go under reported by the news media, said Al Tompkins, who teaches broadcast and online news at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists.

About 36,000 people die from flu-related symptoms each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The fast pace of new swine flu cases and their relevance to global public health policy makes the situation newsworthy, Tompkins said.

Tompkins said there is a tendency for television stations to hype health emergencies to boost their ratings, but so far coverage of the swine flu outbreak has been responsible. Coverage of the story is just flaring up, though, he said. Unofficial swine flu information on Twitter may lead people to unwise decisions, said Evgeny Morozov, a fellow at the Open Society Institute and a blogger on For example, some Twitter users told their followers to stop eating pork, Morozov said. Health officials have not advised that precaution.

Maybe it was just a religion thing. My personal experience, on Twitter, is most information related to the swine flu, has been in the form of links to pages where info can be found. Besides, how is it going to intensify the case or spread the virus if people do not eat pork?

Maybe they are afraid the pork comment might hurt the pork industry, the same way Joe Biden's comment would hurt the Airline industry. In any event, perhaps if the administration was more in control of the border, and regulating what responsible info is released to the public, it wouldn't be such a scatter-brain situation.

Does this mean Twitter is now on the same "Axis of Evil" list as George Bush?

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