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UPDATED: Twitter & Swine Flu: All Noise, No Signal

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on April 27, 2009

Updated 4/28, 10:30 am EDT

The discussion, if you can call it that, of swine flu under the #swineflu hashtag at Twitter is growing more inane as developments get scarcer. In fact, the posts create the general impression of a huge roomful of people all talking at once with no one listening.

Within one five-minute period, fifteen tweets or retweets informed us that “Google is tracking the outbreak of the #swineflu virus via Google Maps. In fact, the useful map has been around since April 21 and its not the work of Google but of Pittsburgh biomedical researcher Henry Niman, who built it using Google Maps.


The notion that Twitter could be of some genuine use in a situation like, say, a developing flu pandemic is being put to the test today—and it’s failing badly. Tweets are streaming in under the hashtag #swineflu at the rate of a couple dozen a minute, but for every one that contains any useful information, typically a link to a respectable information source—at least 10 are repetitive, silly, pointless or simply wrong.

The good news: The Twitter stream is so unfocused that it is nowhere near as good as the mass media, especially cable news, at spreading panic.

I also worry a bit that concern over swine flu could be used to spread another kind of infection. all it takes is an inflammatory tweet with a compressed URL link to a malicious Web site that delivers a nasty drive-by download. So you have to take precautions for you your cyber-health too.

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Reader Comments


April 27, 2009 11:52 AM

They are also saying to stay away from pork products, so do not put any on your pizza!


Steve Wildstrom

April 27, 2009 02:52 PM

@Lapp--I don't know whether that comment is ignorance, a poor joke, or deliberate misinformation, but there is absolutely no connection between swine flu and eating pork. You can eat a pig, just don't kiss one. Of course, since most people have little contact with pigs, the real concern is human-to-human transmission.


April 28, 2009 08:34 AM

It's the mob mentality of Twitter that was recently covered here.

Woody Williams

April 28, 2009 11:42 AM

Twitter is not a news source -- except for the news media who post there. Twitter is a conversation.

The value of Twitter is this situation is that the response to news (good, bad, or otherwise) and thoughts of ordinary people are available.

I am stunned that seeing comments from people who are misinformed or lack knowledge is considered negative. On the contrary, those comments offer insight as well as an opportunity to those in the medical and news field for targeting misconceptions and offering sound advice.

duane van etten

April 28, 2009 01:50 PM

just think over half the world population won't touch pork

duane van etten

April 28, 2009 01:50 PM

just think over half the world population won't touch pork


April 28, 2009 09:09 PM

Hmmm, lets name the next potential pandemic something like EuroFlu and see if everybody shuns the Euro.

April 28, 2009 09:33 PM

did some politician say "you can put lipstick on a pig, just dont French kiss it" Pork is not healthy because of the antibiotics and hormones in the mean; it surely is not healthy for the pig to be eaten. primitive peoples survived well without pork. humans only need about 60 grams of meat per day anyway. ever heard of Proteinuria - Wikipedia:
Proteinuria (/prəʊtiː'n(j)ʊəriə/, from protein and urine) means the presence of an excess of serum proteins in the urine. It causes Kidney failure!

J.A. Ginsburg

April 28, 2009 09:48 PM

I edit an aggregator that looks at health issues, humanitarian work and technology. I began adding links to Twitter feeds for specific disasters about a month ago. The strings for tornadoes in the southeast and the earthquake in Italy were qualitatively different than what cruises by on #swineflu. I still have a link up for it, though it's become more of a curiosity and a tool for gauging public concern than a conduit for useful news and links.

But there are other sources on Twitter. My personal favorite for flu info these day is @veratect. The updates are a little more frequent than I like, so I subscribe to the pages RSS feed (every Twitter page has one). It's a mother lode.

Twitter is an astonishing tool. It just takes a little bit of work to figure out how to use it.


April 30, 2009 10:19 AM

I found a really scary map at It's interactive, which I think is what makes it so useful, but also so alarming.

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