Posted by: Nicholas Swetenham | April 27, 2009

Swine flu: an insight into crowd psychology

A pig - CC Yftach Herzog

A pig - CC Yftach Herzog

How have social media responded?

Who knew that swine flu could also infect Twitter? Yet this is what appears to have happened in the last 24 hours, with thousands of Twitter users turning to their favorite service to query each other about this nascent and potentially lethal threat as well as to share news and latest developments from Mexico, Texas, Kansas and New York (you can check most recent Twitter updates on the subject by searching for “swine flu” and “#swineflu”).


The author of the article above argues that twitter is actually full of misinformation and scare-mongering. However, I disagree. As I tracked the #swineflu channel on twitter trends, the number of posters urging people to use reliable sources increased. There were plenty of randoms making inappropriate jokes or grabs for attention, of course. Then,  as Sunday afternoon rolled on, something strange happened: the appearance of dedicated swine flu twitters. H1N1swineflu, influezame, swineflualerts, and Gripe_porcina, to name but a few. They are now posting high-quality, real-time updates, as is the CDC which makes the twitter stream highly informative. So I am no longer particularly worried that people are being overly panicked by twitter.

Interestingly, some people were discussing political implications: some users were blaming illegal immigrants (while of course legal migrants on airplanes are the real danger), and others were pointing that many US States don’t have paid sick days, and that this might encourage reckless behaviour in a pandemic.

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