In the good old days any crime spree, natural disaster, assassination or horrific disease outbreak (remember ebola?) would result in a media frenzy.
These days, as well as the media climax, there’s a collective social media jizzing over such events, so desperate is everyone to be the one to break the news, or offer their inevitably dull and/or self-important musings. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony).
There’s a faintly obsessive need on Twitter, in particular, to report on the slightest aspect of any new detail of what can actually be a stultifying unimportant or irrelevant event.
There are a number of watershed events of late that have broken Twitter to wider masses, and the G20 protest earlier this month showed how social media can change the game, but I suspect what looks like a forthcoming flu pandemic may be the first ongoing global event that has covered so comprehensively by the web and so-called ‘citizen journalists’.
Whether welcoming the zombie apocalypse, the inevitable ‘I have swine flu’ post, posting endless links to FAQs around the web, collecting conspiracy theories, posting Google Maps mash-ups, creating unfunny LOLpigs images, or just spewing out pointless jabber on it, Twitter is awash with swine flu.
This raises fascinating possibilities for the media scholar, but it also prompts the horrific possibility of a never-before-seen insight into what it’s like for huge numbers of people to die while struggling gamely to complete their latest tweet.
Depending on your point of view, or the severity of the outbreak of swine flu, this is either something out of a horror film or potentially rather amusing.
Already on Twitter there’s a kind of unofficial punology on swine flu, with Guardian technology bod Charles Arthur collecting bad puns, and Liverpool music type Jonathan Deamer suggesting songs that reflect the latest global apocalypse (here’s mine).
Meanwhile an old friend of mine on Facebook suggests:
If you’re ACTUALLY worried about contracting swine flu, I’m sorry to tell you, you’re an idiot
On a geeky forum I frequent I read this from someone who works in public health and has ‘contacts’ in the World Health Organisation:
I’m involved in a couple of projects that would help to stockpile vaccines within two weeks or so of an outbreak of a new strain of flu, but the lag time is several months using current manufacturing systems.
The traditional media has gone into its usual Four Horsemen mode, with exactly the kind of OTT graphics, music and doom-laden voiceovers so lambasted by the likes of Shaun of the Dead and Charlie Brooker. Dave Quinn notes that reporters have now absurdly taken to wearing masks.
Meanwhile PRs everywhere – oblivious to the absurdity of their activities at the best of times – have started putting out press releases on the back of swine flu that don’t bear the vaguest relevance to their core businesses.
A press release from the Road Haulage Association winged its way to me today, assuring me that everything the freight group could do was being done. Phew.
Ragan, PR experts who I generally admire, sent me no less than four emails today on how to talk to my staff about swine flu.
And another journalist friend of mine put other hacks on notice that the next few days could be a good time to bury bad news, a la Jo Moore.
So, the whole world, media, Web 2.0 and the bloke next door has gone swine flu mad, even though the calmer reports I’ve read seem to suggest that it’s probably nothing to worry about.
Of course, this could all turn out to be a huge joke at our expense. I don’t sense the panic that these things used to bring, I remember being chilled to the bone by the prospect of ebola and its horrifying symptoms, because everyone on the web is so inured that being vaguely diffident and jaded is de rigeur.
Let’s just hope that the optimists and the calmer voices are correct, and the human race isn’t wiped off the face of the earth. All those smug tweets are going to start looking pretty stupid if so, and I’ve no desire to read the first tweet consisting solely of a death rattle.
And I didn’t even make a swine fever joke.
• Picture by Dave Quinn