As the second health worker tests positive for Ebola in Dallas this morning, people need not to panic, overreact or go into crisis mode. While the Ebola outbreak has not only triggered intense debates all around the globe about our country’s health care system, and continues to be hot topic of conversation at the Integrate office, it is and will be an interesting case study on how information about the outbreak has been communicated on social media and through traditional news. I confess that when I heard about the outbreak, my body cringed and I automatically started thinking of ways of obtaining a hazmat suit, as the insensitivity, lack of information and over-exaggeration of the media heightened my fears.
Ebola updates across social media platforms are both contributing to the fear, but also helping to dispel rumors. Following the first diagnosis of an Ebola case in the United States on Sept. 30, mentions of the virus on Twitter leapt from about 100 per minute to more than 6,000. Don’t let ridiculous claims from “non-experts” across social media fool you – Ebola cannot spread from air, water or food.
U.S. government agencies, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are using social media to dispel misconceptions about the Ebola virus and educating the public on all Ebola matters. You can now chat with a health expert on Twitter and directly address any concerns you may have about ebola using #CDCchat. As a social media enthusiast, I believe that this is a great use of social media. It is effective, engaging, and an easy resource to find credible, fact-based information.
On the flip side, it is amazing what social media and technology can do to help predict outbreaks; scientists are monitoring keywords like “fever” across the web to monitor disease outbreaks and eventually create predictive scientific models. Most recently, Harvard’s HealthMap made headlines for being able to monitor early mentions of the Ebola outbreak on March 14. That was nine days before the World Health Organization (WHO) formally announced the epidemic.
And this just in: Marc Zuckerberg just donated $25 Million to the Centers for Disease Control Foundation. So, yes, we just may be seeing more information about Ebola on Facebook as Facebook tries to expand into the healthcare space.
Don’t panic and most importantly, don’t let the media fool you. It is important to seek out credible sources and learn all the facts about this serious matter before making insensitive jokes about this deadly outbreak (i.e. Ebola Halloween costumes… not funny)
-Written by Stefanie Pascacio