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Pig plague and Twitter: The terrifying truth

Disinformation + internet = fear?

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Comment As the world's media buries its snout into the swine flu trough with an enthusiasm not seen since its avian cousin threatened to kill all life on Earth and reduce our planet to a barren wasteland inhabited only by cockroaches and Daily Mail journalists, some news outlets have turned their attention to that most pressing of matters: Just what role is the internet playing in handling the apocalyptic Black Death 2.0?

The answer, according to CNN, is to spread disinformation, propagate fear and generally convert the unwashed masses into headless chickens drip-fed nonsense by sites such as Twitter.

Indeed, some Twitterers have worked themselves into a right state about pig plague. Among the gems on offer are plenty of tweets advising people not to eat pork, gloating vegetarians suggesting their day of vindication is nigh, biolgical warfare conspiracy theories and links to handy Google Maps mashups showing the inexorable spread* of the mutant armageddon virus.

This "hysteria" prompted Brennon Slattery, a contributing writer for PC World, to note: "This is a good example of why [Twitter is] headed in that wrong direction, because it's just propagating fear amongst people as opposed to seeking actual solutions or key information. The swine flu thing came really at the crux of a media revolution."

In fact, so serious is Twitter's contribution to the imminent collapse of society, that Slattery admitted that while "he generally was excited about Twitter until recently", he now finds it to be "an incredibly unreliable source of information".

That a journalist might have regarded Twitter as "a reliable source of information" in the first place is bad enough, but here's another revelation for those who consider the site to truly be a Web 2.0 "phenomenon": It's nothing more than an online talking shop where ordinary people can chip in their two bits' worth for the benefit of their fellow hoi polloi.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Everyone's entitled to their opinion on swine flu, and who can now imagine a world where we're not immediately informed via Twitter as to how some teenager from California's neurotic cat is handling the crisis?

Twitter is not, though, a media outlet. Sadly, the real media's handling of the pig plague, complete with doomsday statmongers ("could kill up to 200m, maybe..."), restrained headlines ("Horror in the Hospitals", as the Sun described the first couple of cases) and a dismal failure to get a grip on reality, in keeping with its handling of previous "crises" (SARS, bird flu, ebola, etc etc), has increasingly driven people to seek alternative sources of information - no matter how inadequate they may be.

There is, however, some hope for humanity in what little time remains for us before bacon sarnies, Mexicans or sheer terror do for us all: Twitter is not an entirely lost cause. Recent tweets on swine flu include:

Good points, well put. ®

Bootnote

*Entertaining as these mashups are, have the creators really considered what will happen when the pig plague really kicks off? There will be so many cases that it will be physically impossible for them to keep up, assuming they're not already dead themselves.

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