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.