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Surviving the Twitter pandemic.

Alex Christie

4 May 2009

With the whole world is up in a frenzy over the outbreak of swine flu, it is not surprising that people over many social networks feel they need to air their opinions, views and experiences. This widespread coverage of “news” (and I use this term very loosely) is a great way to get opinions from a far greater pool than from what is being spun in the media.

Newspaper

There has been a lot of criticism over how swine flu was handled in social media, a lot of big name publications and health organisations stating that the reason the panic outweighs the actual threat level is largely because of the un-moderated, un-confirmed spread of coverage through social media.

While I have no doubt that a lot of people buy into everything they see or hear online, I do feel that there is no excuse for the level of stupidity it would take to buy into such hoopla about things and creating a global “panic” without consulting proper sources.

While in most cases I do believe the overly popular opinion or statement amongst a large population is generally the correct one (harking back to stats classes at Uni, oh the memories); I feel that when it comes to specialist data, or information from a very select few specialists in the know, most of the opinions of those without access to the correct dataset are largely based on speculations on speculations. Now we have a broken telephone on speed dial!

Why would you take the opinion of a random blogger, who voices his fears and opinions because his diet consists mainly of bacon, over that of the actual World Health Organisation? Sure, he might be getting a lot of attention and publicity, but is he correct? Does being quoted a million times make your statement magically true?

Perhaps the global panic is not caused by the social media fronts? Perhaps the very people we trust to separate the truth from the garbage are responsible for the fear… yes corporately owned media, I am talking to you. I can see you skulking away in the corner there.

If you followed the stories regarding the outbreak from various sources in the first couple of hours and days after the news broke, you would have been astounded at how greatly the figures differ from various publications, with some publications citing as many as 150 deaths within hours of the story reaching the front page.

It would appear that in the beginning of the story, when few-to-no facts were available from the WHO and relevant scientific and medical institutions, stories were simply scraped from sites that made the most noise in the interest of having content. Instead of waiting for proper facts from the people in the know, it seems that media would rather run sensational skepticism over factual content when there are no official facts. And now these same media are claiming that it was social media that broke the system, when it appears they themselves are responsible for the initial fear!

Yes people do follow trends like sheep, but when the shepherds are propagating bleats heard from the sheep… we all get the flu!

On a lighter note… May the 4th be with you, always!

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