CDC Pulls in Audiences on Swine Flu
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Pew has a detailed run down on the surge in motivation for information about swine flu. The brief analysis goes on to discuss strategies CDC had put in place to be ready to "pull" audiences in when an infectious disease outbreak occurred:
The prominent position of the CDC on these lists may be owing in substantial part to the government's earlier recognition of the usefulness of Google search tools in tracking the actual spread of diseases. Google's Flu Trends tracks certain search terms to estimate possible flu activity at a state level - and it does this far more quickly than the CDC's standard surveillance system can. Google shared its data with the CDC during the 2007-2008 flu season and analysis has shown that the near real-time search data were remarkably accurate in tracking the actual outbreak of cases across the country over the last five years. The website iHealthBeat reports that Google hopes to map other diseases worldwide in the future.
This year, as reported recently in the Washington Post and National Public Radio, the federal government made explicit use of the internet to disseminate information about the flu virus. According to the Post, CDC's YouTube video, "Swine Flu," had been viewed nearly 170,000 times by the end of April. CDC has also posted regular alerts on its Twitter account, CDCemergency, which currently has more than 106,000 followers.
CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services also hosted an hour-long town hall meeting on their respective websites while staff members tracked public reactions on various social networking sites. And Google itself prominently displays an advisory telling users to consult CDC for the most recent official updates on swine flu, while CDC itself has an informational flu prevention posting in the margin of the Google Flu Trends page.
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