After confirming 20 cases of Swine Flu specifically in New York , Kansas, Ohio, California and Texas the U.S. declared a public health emergency today. Federal officials are urging Americans not to panic but fears of contracting the flu is spreading all over Twitter. If you were on Twitter this weekend searching for Swine Flu you know what I’m talking about. Swine Flu is the top trending topic on Twitter as I write this, and people continue to tweet about the latest news on the disease. In fact judging by the chatter on Twitter, one could easily come to the conclusion that the Mexican Swine Flu is going to be worse than the influenza pandemic of 1918 if you simply look at the trending numbers.
People are “assessing” the risks and offering their opinions in real time leading to what amounts to at best misinformation and unnecessary panic. Information on Twitter is not like the search results of a Google query. In fact Google tracks flu trends using aggregated search data to estimate flu activity in the various states. Here is the difference … on Google the results are based on people wanting to learn or are curious about a certain topic. The search engine then (I’m assuming by using sophisticated algorithms) determines the likelihood of a flu outbreak in a certain area and trends that information based on the data.
On the other hand the info on Twitter is basically people talking in real time and in 140 characters or less to boot. Some people may have valuable and credible info while others are simply offering (micro-blogging) their opinions. The numbers reflect all “types” of tweets including the ones that are not very credible. Therefore the data coming out of Twitter should be taken with a grain of salt.
Mashable does a fine job explaining how to track the Swine flu on-line.