Excuse Me? Twitter Is Fueling Panic?

In a self-serving piece, CNN makes the case that Twitter is fueling unnecessary panic over the swine flu.

The swine flu outbreak is spawning debate about how people get information during health emergencies — especially at a time when news sources are becoming less centralized.

Buzz about swine flu on Twitter is stirring conversations about how people get health news. Some observers say Twitter — a micro-blogging site where users post 140-character messages — has become a hotbed of unnecessary hype and misinformation about the outbreak, which is thought to have claimed more than 100 lives in Mexico.

“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,” said Brennon Slattery, a contributing writer for PC World. “The swine flu thing came really at the crux of a media revolution.”

Twitter’s popularity has exploded in recent months, and Slattery said it’s a new development that a wide number of people would turn to the site in search of information during an emergency.

Setting aside fears about swine flu, the reporter, John D. Sutter, leaves no doubts about CNN’s fears, stating that the controversy comes as news sources are becoming less centralized. As their market share continues to drop, any indication that people are turning elsewhere for primary news sources has to be discouraging and must be the reason Sutter chose to set the tone of the story based on Brennon Slattery’s input. Slattery, a writer for PC World, makes the claim that Twitter is propagating fear.

Maybe it’s just me, but a contributing writer for PC World isn’t where I’d turn to determine if a news source – any news source – was fueling panic in matters relating to public health. I might turn to the CDC. Oh! And look what they have to say.

A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, said that the online buzz about swine flu is a good sign. It means people are talking about the issue, and that’s the first step toward learning how to reasonably protect yourself.

“I think it’s generally a useful development, but I would encourage people to look to other sources, especially established, recognized medical authorities,” said Glen Nowak, chief of media relations at the CDC. “It shows that people are engaged and they care and that it’s caught their attention — and those all are good things.”

How about that, the health experts at the CDC say, the online buzz about swine flu is a good sign and it’s generally a useful development. But that’s not really the focus of CNN’s story.

Even so, my sense is that panic may be rising, but, seriously, with congress investigating the outbreak, President Barack Obama requesting $1.5 billion to respond to the outbreak, and the World Health Organization raising the pandemic alert level from three to four (out of six), why blame Twitter for fueling panic?


Filed under Media, Public Health, Swine Flu

9 responses to “Excuse Me? Twitter Is Fueling Panic?

  1. Paula Dear,

    If someone at CNN committed an actual act of journalism he or she would be dismissed immediately. So they put out crap like this instead.

  2. What nonsense! Great article though, Paula. Nice to think the lefty media might be skeered of the conservatives on Twitter!

  3. Excuse me but Twitter creates buzz, but also directs people to Facts. Fast. It is unbelievable quick at getting us to the CDC and WHO and put facts on the table that have not been pre-spun for us.


  4. it is. Still the top ‘Trending Topic’ as of right now. Been there for the past 2 days at least. Fear is contagious (pardon the pun).

    • paulag1955

      It is a trending topic, but I think the mainstream newsmedia, WHO, the President and Congress, being in positions of authority, are doing more to drive the panic than Twitter.

  5. Marie Northrup


    I agree wholeheartedly with your last comment!

    The fact that the common flu kills on average 36,000 people in the U.S. a year seems to be overlooked. There isn’t a panic over the common flu.

  6. It is so easy to dismiss. My Eighteen year old is in a dorm with two cases of flu, awaiting the swine flu test back. It takes a few days meanwhile my son has been breathing God Only Knows what germs.

    So easy to think it is a panic when you don’t have a family member at risk. I hate CNN, I can it is a business not a person! 😀

  7. FlameGurl

    Interestingly, you can follow CNN’s resident medical expert, Sanjay Gupta, on Twitter with his updates on Swine Flu: http://twitter.com/sanjayguptaCNN 😉

  8. Excellent points.

    CNN blaming Twitter for panic like blaming the telephone. After all, it’s technology that allows you to instantly spread false information.

    Heck, why not blame assembly of groups for spreading mis-information too?

    Twitter, like talking around the water cooler or listening to the evening news, is just a vehicle for expression – some of the chatter on it will be crap, some of it will be valuable.

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