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Swine Flu News Buzzing On Twitter - Is It A Good Thing?

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, April 28, 2009 3:27 PM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Swine Flu, CDC, Internet, Twitter, Digital Age, Social Networking, Public Health



Twitter is the latest greatest thing in social media. It’s addictive, it’s interesting and it’s still gaining popularity. But is it always a good thing?

Twitter can be called a ‘micro blogging’ service under the umbrella of a social networking tool based on the basic question – “What are you doing?”

The concept is amazingly simple [and addictive] which is likely one of the very reasons why it has caught on like wildfire. The site allows users to send a small update (limited to 140 characters) to their "followers."

Celebrities use Twitter, as do medical doctors, political figures, moms, business owners and everyone in between – including your very own InjuryBoard.

You can ask/get help with just about anything on Twitter – from search engine optimization to asking what you should have for lunch, to whether you should buy an iPhone vs. a BlackBerry or what to do if your Web site has been hacked and so much more.

As popular, fun and helpful as Twitter can be, some observers say the service has become a hotbed of unnecessary hype and misinformation. Case in point - the swine flu outbreak, which is thought to have claimed more than 100 lives in Mexico and sickened more than 64 in the United States.

In recent months Twitter’s popularity has soared, said Brennon Slattery, a contributing writer for PC World. “A wide number of people around the world now turn to Twitter in search of information during an emergency."

But it may not always be a good thing. Some Twitter users, for instance, told their followers to avoid eating pork due to the swine flu, meanwhile, health officials have not advised taking that precaution.

“This is a good example of why Twitter is headed in the wrong direction, because it’s stirring fear amongst people as opposed to seeking real solutions and information,” said Slattery.

Conversely, some observers say the Internet is a great source of information right at your fingertips.

The fast pace of new swine flu cases and their relevance to global public health policy makes the situation newsworthy, Al Tompkins, who teaches broadcast and online news at the Poynter Institute said.

Unofficial news on Twitter may lead people to make unwise decisions, says Evgeny Morozov, a fellow at the Open Society Institute.

Morozov says, there’s incentive for Twitter users to post whatever is on their mind because it helps them to grow their online audience. But, in emergency situations, that means people tend to write about their own fears which can create an uninformed hysteria, he said.

President Obama tried to calm national fears on Monday saying the outbreak is “cause for concern” and requires heightened state of alert but is not a “cause for alarm,” CNN reported.

Nielsen Online reports, Monday, swine flu worked its way into about 2 percent of all notes posted on Twitter.

To stay up to date on the most current and accurate swine flu information, visit the CDC's swine flu Web site and the WHO Web site. #

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