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April 28, 2009

The Smart Way to Use Twitter to Learn About Swine Flu

Twitter_logo_header In a blog post Sunday night, I recommended using Twitter — specifically the hashtag #swineflu — to keep up with the latest news of the outbreak.

Since then, I've seen critical blog posts and stories charging that Twitter is spreading misinformation, and does more harm than good. Here's the latest report from CNN, entitled "Swine flu creates controversy on Twitter" (which I found on Twitter). It cites four sources, including Evgeny Morozov — who wrote the cautionary blog post I cited Sunday — all of whom essentially warn users to take information on Twitter "with a grain of salt."

Well duh.

Have you seen the #swineflu hashtag? Click over there if you like. You'll see a random sampling of information, some of which is useful, some of which is not. How can you tell which is which? Here are a few tweets from the stream. See if you can tell the good info from the bad. I'll put my reactions in parentheses.

NameInAHat: Want to know how Name In A Hat can help your business cope with Swine Flu? Email enquiries@nameinahat.couk for more info #swineflu
(not surprisingly, swine flu attracts spam).

rolando: looking forward to the rest of the plagues the End Times bring us. #swineflu
(ha ha)

wsredneck: I wonder if the #swineflu came from people putting lipstick on a pig the last campaign season? #tcot
(good one)

vdovault: Okay for Americans concerned about #swineflu you can follow @CDCemergency Good info from the Centers for Disease Control there :)
(true enough)

Thyladyinred: spread the facts about #swineflu : visit @CDCemergency and retweat valid information
(good advice)

gbattle: This just about explains everything: http://imgur.com/27K39.jpg #swineflu
(very funny picture -- laughter is the best medicine, right?)

SwineFluWatch: WORLD NEWS: New Zealand confirms cases of swine flu http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSP465504  #swineflu
(link to article from Reuters)

iHomeTech: HT - News - RT @GenevaMWilgus: great Q&A on #SwineFlu by the BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8021958.stm
(link to Q&A from the BBC)

It can take some time to sort the signal from the noise, but the process is definitely entertaining. Just ignore the spam and the alarmist tweets and look for the good stuff.

I should add that Twitter is not for everyone — news junkies like me love wading through Twitter chatter, but my partner, Ann-Elise, is not interested. I was trying to explain it to her Sunday night, and telling her how we could use it to find links to all kinds of info. She cut me off. "I just don't want to know about Twitter," she said. "This is where I draw the line."

FYI — the Vermont Department of Health now has a Twitter feed. Click here to follow it. Not much going on there, but it's a start. Hat tip to Morgan Brown of Vermont Watch for suggesting the idea.

Until I read your blog post Cathy, I had not known the VDH had set up a Twitter account. Good to know. One would think the Vermont.gov Twitter account would have posted a tweet about it. Thank you for the heads up.

No prob. Not much content there. They're probably still figuring out what to do with it.

Understood. Agreed.

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