If you've ever wondered how people use Twitter to spread breaking news, click the links above. This is a great case study.
I'm trying to think of a joke about how Twitter itself is an epidemic, but it's not happening. Sorry to disappoint. It's past my bedtime.
UPDATE, 4/27: Several people I know have posted this link — "Swine Flu: Twitter's power to misinform". Definitely an interesting read.
The question of whether we need to somehow alter our global information flows during global pandemics is not a trivial one. A recent New York Times piece highlighted how a growing number of corporations like Starbucks, Dell, and Whole Foods are turning to Twitter to monitor and partially shape conversation about particular brands or products. What the piece failed to mention was that conversations about more serious topics (like pandemics- and their tragic consequences) could be shaped as well.
I think it's only a matter of time before that the next generation of cyber-terrorists – those who are smart about social media, are familiar with modern information flows, and are knowledgeable about human networks – take advantage of the escalating fears over the next epidemic and pollute the networked public sphere with scares that would essentially paralyze the global economy. Often, such tactics would bring much more destruction than the much-feared cyberwar and attacks on physical – rather than human – networks.
Ok, sure, the Twitter #swineflu tag delivers a lot of useless and unnecessarily alarming information, but if you can sort the signal from the noise, you'll find some things you can use. Two I found yesterday:
A guide to some other online flu-tracking tools, from Mashable.
And a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's emergency Twitter feed. And yes, it's the official CDC Twitter feed. They link to it from their site It'll be interesting to see how they use it.
Incidentally, blogger/homeless activist Morgan Brown is already calling on the Vermont Department of Health, urging them to set up a Twitter account — he sent his request in an email last night to a list of health dept. officials and media types (myself included).
From Morgan's email:
"...if the Vermont Lottery and the Vermont Department of Tourism can have Twitter accounts for what they use them for in order to inform the members of public they are attempting to reach, why not an agency and some of its key departments who handle matters of even graver concern and of a higher priority to all of its citizens, particularly among those who may be most vulnerable to whatever may be the particular case or circumstances at a given time?"
You can follow Morgan's prolific Twitterings here.
Ben Truman, the health dept.'s Health Policy and Web Program Coordinator, chimed in with a comment:
Thanks Morgan and Cathy for the attention to the Swine Flu outbreak!
The Health Department does now have a Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/healthvermont
While no cases have been identified yet in Vermont, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has to date reported 40 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States, including in New York City. In the U.S., illness has been relatively mild so far compared to the severe illness reported in Mexico.