After seeing non-stop coverage of flu fears, I decided I should write my thoughts on the relationship between swine-flu and twitter.
If you haven’t heard of the swine-flu, especially if you use Twitter, you are likely living under a rock on another planet and don’t understand any human languages. The swine-flu is the talk of all of the news outlets on tv, radio and the internet. While I will admit that I believe that the massive amount of coverage that the swine-flu is getting in mainstream media is beyond overkill and done to either increase ratings or cause panic (which would be another story to boost ratings), I think the real story is how it is being talked about on social networking sites, in particular, Twitter.
Twitter can be a wonderful tool for spreading information quickly and efficiently (assuming that the service is actually working), but it can also be a tool to cause more harm than good. With people constantly retweeting the latest bit of information, which many times can be inaccurate, it is easy to see how such a service can take an issue such as swine-flu and blow it so far out of proportion that it causes panic. I believe that this is what is happening. While I will admit that there has been some good discussion and some informative links that have been passed around, most of the twitter chatter hasn’t been helpful to the swine-flu cause. Whether its jokes that try to make light of the seriousness of the outbreak or those that tweet out of a state of panic because the flu is in their area or those that just flood their twitter stream with any swine-flu related link, no matter how inaccurate it is, many of the people that are discussing the swine-flu on Twitter are causing more harm than good. If you have uninformed people in a state of panic sending out information about what they are panicking about, then it only serves to create even more uninformed people in a state of panic. The last thing we need on twitter is more FUD.
How should we be twittering the swine-flu outbreak you ask? There are several ways you can make sure you are a part of the solution and not part of the problem. First, if you see a new link going around that has already been tweeted by several people you follow, especially those with hundreds of thousands of followers, there is no need for you to retweet the same information again. All that will do is annoy your followers because instead of posting something original, you are just copying the same thing that everybody else is posting. Second, make sure you have the most up-to-date information available. Twittering about old reports won’t help anybody, especially when older reports tend to be more inaccurate than what is new at the time since many places don’t bother to update their stories. Last, unless you have a confirmed case of swine-flu, don’t twitter about it. I realize that being sick sucks, but saying you think you have swine-flu just because you have flu-like symptoms only serves to create panic in your community.
If you have suggestions for how people can be part of the solution instead of the problem, please post them in the comments.