It should be obvious by now that Twitter is a useful viral marketing tool – whatever you might think of it in terms of journalism and news.
And, like the Witches of Facebook, Twitter can be a platform for dis-information.
The swine flu pandemic has hit Twitter. The TechCrunch blog is tracking the cyberspace traffic on the pandemic.
Since I started writing this about 20 minutes ago (it’s 4.02 PM in Auckland) another 700 tweets on the pandemic have been posted. That’s one every 2 seconds. Some of it is funny, some links to factual stuff, some is just misinformed and hopeless.
The speed of Twitter and its unchecked/unmoderated nature means that ignorance and genius co-exist quite happily.
Evegeny Morozov at Techsploder blog has written eloquently on this, so I shall defer to his greater insights:
Who knew that swine flu could also infect Twitter? Yet this is what appears to have happened in the last 24 hours, with thousands of Twitter users turning to their favorite service to query each other about this nascent and potentially lethal threat as well as to share news and latest developments from Mexico, Texas, Kansas and New York (you can check most recent Twitter updates on the subject by searching for “swine flu” and “#swineflu”). And despite all the recent Twitter-enthusiasm about this platform’s unique power to alert millions of people in decentralized and previously unavailable ways, there are quite a few reasons to be concerned about Twitter’s role in facilitating an unnecessary global panic about swine flu. [Swine flu: Twitter's power to misinform]
As Evegeny points out the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta is now tweeting updates, so hopefully this will slow the pandemic of panic on Twitter, if not the rate of infection.
To put this in perspective, here’s a grab from a Q&A at the CDC website
How serious is swine flu infection?
Like seasonal flu, swine flu in humans can vary in severity from mild to severe. Between 2005 until January 2009, 12 human cases of swine flu were detected in the U.S. with no deaths occurring. However, swine flu infection can be serious. In September 1988, a previously healthy 32-year-old pregnant woman in Wisconsin was hospitalized for pneumonia after being infected with swine flu and died 8 days later. A swine flu outbreak in Fort Dix, New Jersey occurred in 1976 that caused more than 200 cases with serious illness in several people and one death. [CDC Q&A on swine flu]
The bottom line seems to be, unless it gets a lot worse, it ain’t gonna kill ya.
The CDC is also posting transcripts of its media conferences. Here’s one from a few hours ago (3pm Sunday US time)
If you’re still worried about the virus getting to you, track its spread on Google Maps
Also some tips on how to use Twitter to follow news of the pandemic without getting caught up in the dross is available from the Columbia J School New Media blog