The internet changes everything, not always in ways we can anticipate.
Although governments and others have increasingly used social media to try to influence, and sometimes mislead, public opinion, not least on animal and public health issues, it also gets much harder for them to neglect or hide up problems.
At a time when traditional journalism is besieged in Britain, and rather obsessed with their future, fresh avenues open. There is no substitute for professional journalists, but social media has a useful place too.
The newsgroup uk.business.agriculture, despite the unpleasant behaviour and many deleted posts, is part of that process. In some fields it gives an unrivalled log of material removed from the public record, since the beginning of the current procession of animal and zoonotic disease starting more than a decade ago.
Maryn McKenna, one of most powerful and capable writers and speakers on infectious disease, has given a lecture in Minnesota on how Twitter and forums contribute.
Report from Minnesota in full here
Maryn McKenna: Infectious disease, journalism, social networking, and reaching beyond the scientific community.
Written by: Kassandra Remmel
Edited by: Angie Tsuei
Friday, November 30th, 2012 Minnesota Medical Leaders, along with the Microbiology Club and Bug Club of the University of Minnesota invited Maryn McKenna to present on her use of social networking and "scary diseases" to reach the general public. Maryn McKenna presented on the use of Twitter--how a simple hashtag can be used to monitor an outbreak, how a post on a web forum, originating from a question asked by a fourth grade teacher on a completely unrelated website can bring attention to the spread of an infectious disease, and how monitoring searches in search engines for the closest store containing orange juice can give rise to information as reliable as government-run infectious disease agencies in tracking outbreaks.
The event was live-tweeted, and an influx of #mmlSDG tweets rushed in--after 15 minutes, all tweets from audience members halted, 200 audience members being completely captivated by the Scary Disease Girl
and her presentation. For an hour and fifteen minutes, Maryn McKenna commanded the full attention of the audience, informing us all of new applications that allow us to monitor local outbreaks near our homes, and also global outbreaks--I wonder how many persons downloaded the apps she mentioned on Friday night...