The pillars of social media are supposed to provide great support for the dissemination of important real time news when people need it the most. This week the swine flu may have exposed a few weaknesses in that theory even as some impressive tracking tools emerged. The Foreign Policy blog net.effect began the debate on Saturday by writing about Twitter's power to misinform with vast numbers of misinformed or irrelevant tweets starved of context by the 140 character limit. Mashable used their expertise to cut through the 10,000/hour flu tweets to come up with a small handful of credible sources. The flu was one of several sources that seem to overwhelm a site dedicated to tracking potential disasters on Twitter named Twisaster.
The health threat functioned as a stress test for some lesser known social media properties. O'Reilly Radar spoke about Sick City, a promising site designed to track the path of disease that instead merely mirrored the resulting media blitz. Cornell Info looked to 'prediction markets' where experts can earn 'swine' dollars by backing correct predictions. PC World expressed the concern that, as a shared resource, the web might become inherently ineffective in the face of a true pandemic.
While pork may have been off the menu for some (despite the expert advice saying that it was unrelated to the disease) there still was plenty of spam, as the LA Times blog noted that unscrupulous mailers saw the potential pandemic as little more than a chance to boost open rates.