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Swine Flu and You: The contagious spread of H1N1 online

May 9, 2009

swine_fluHave you caught the swine flu? If not the virus, maybe the online buzz.

Over the past few weeks, H1N1 has dominated social media. From twitter to Facebook, niche blogs to widgets, and even YouTube, it has become basically impossible to avoid the chatter. It seems the contagion is spreading faster online than from human to human.

Social media, especially twitter, has emerged as an early warning system as swine flu spreads from Mexico to other countries around the world – an instant form of communication for the public to spread news and information. But in our attempts to be constantly connected has social media made us more vulnerable to misinformation and panic?

As Carmi Levy mentions in his blog TG Daily, “in the land of social media, anyone can say anything. While the collective influence of the crowd tends to rein in anyone intent on posting the online equivalent of graffiti, the real-time web as exemplified by Twitter often makes this self-policing a bit of a joke.” Twitter has allowed individuals, who have no news gathering capabilities, to send out information hastily without considering the ramifications of their words. Panic has spread quickly along with rumors and misinformation around Swine flu because the general monitoring system of online public scrutiny isn’t able to keep up with the constant inflow of information.

The CDC and other citizen journalists with their own social media outreach have been trying to curve the spread of false information, but its damage has already been done. Pork sales have not only gone down since the tweet on Twitter that you can get Swine Flu from eating pig went viral but a collective panic has emerged and spread to other social media sites. Swine Flu is no longer just contagions in person but online.

And while it seems half the country is afraid to leave their homes and is mapping the spread of H1N1 using iPhone applications and Google maps, the other half of the country is developing YouTube videos, blogs, and images to poke fun at the others’ fears. Swine flu has become the brunt of online jokes and videos.

Search “swine flu” on YouTube. There are currently 28,300 hits. The top videos include pig raps and music videos along with recorded news board casts and symptom reports by the CDC. But the most relevant video is…yes….”The Swine Flu Song” posted by Putnam Pig, which has over 170,000 views and almost 700 comments. A puppet pig tribute to the source of swine flu, this video is truly contagious.

Even though this recent pandemic has tested social media capabilities to connect people with information and its authenticity and responsiveness, Swine Flu has also demonstrated the ability to engage online users in the conversation. People are excited, some maybe afraid, but overall the Swine Flu has created a buzz and allowed people to talk, share, and be involved.

By: Kelsey Ivey

Find me on Twitter @KelseyIvey

More links about social media and Swine Flu:
CDC Social Media Tool Kit
Swine Flu infects Social Media” by FederalComputerWeek
Sickening Swine Flu, Social Media Opportunism” by Jennifer Leggio on ZDnet

Pig Humor:
12 Illnesses that are way worse than Swine Flu” by Chris Catalano on TopCultured
Swine Busters” by ijustine on YouTube
Swine Flu Comic Strip by XKCD

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