Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tweet flu

There was a minor kerfuffle recently about Twitter's role in spreading misinformation about swine flu. BBC Radio 4's Media Show contained a section in which media expert Evgeny Morozov discussed Twitter's role in the spreading of this misinformation. The evidence, as it turns out is incredibly scant. A few Tweets were cited on this programme, most of which sounded either like quotes from newspaper headlines or people being deliberately humerous (there is more on this here). 

Is Twitter being used to spread misinformation? Undoutedly yes, but that is not the important question: all media are used to spread lies as well as truth. The important question is how does Twitters truth to lies ratio compare to those of other media? And of course no one can answer this question, though I suspect it would turn out to be no different from the kind of discussions that you get on the bus. I suppose the speed with which tweets can proliferate from person to person could lead misinformation being spread more rapidly and potentially create a panic. 

But hey, who's panicking? According to an interview with, I think, the UK's Chief Medical Officer people don't seem to be panicking (in the UK at least): GP's phone lines are not being jammed by anxious callers; there has not (yet) been an overwhelming demand for face masks (although one of my PhD students saw someone today wearing one in Sheffield, but that could just be Sheffield).

Swine flu is not yet an epidemic, the spread of misinformation on Twitter is not yet an epidemic but I am starting to worry that the spread of scare stories about new media has reached epidemic proportions. 

From cancer to swine flu in just a few weeks.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:58 pm

    But don't you wonder what's going on in recession hit Britain right now? I think we were all so bored of all the financial doom and gloom that we have welcomed a new menace with open arms.