Thursday, 25 June 2009

Swine Flu: Has Media Hype Undermined a Serious Problem?

Swine flu has been the big story in the media over the last couple of months. As the H1N1 virus spreads throughout the world it continues to touch more and more people’s lives, and there are grave predictions about how cases will increase in the Autumn once normal flu season kicks in. Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson has warned the Government that up to half of the UK population could become infected with swine flu before the end of the year, while the Federation of Small Businesses has warned that too few companies are making contingency plans for the spread of the virus and that "failure to prepare could have severe consequences".

At Cirkle, we’ve been working with a company called Healthcare Connections since just before the outbreak was announced. Healthcare Connections owns the largest stock of the antiviral medication Tamiflu outside of the Government, and has been helping companies and individuals to prepare for the outbreak of a pandemic for four years. Our relationship with Healthcare Connections means that we’ve been monitoring the media for swine flu with great intensity, with print, broadcast and online media all on our radar. And this has revealed some interesting insight into just how both the global media and the general public reacts when big news breaks.

When the swine flu in Mexico story first broke, there was what can only be described as a media frenzy around the virus. Everyone wanted a piece of the action – every newspaper, every magazine, every TV station and every radio station was searching for a slightly different angle on the story. We generated something in the region of £3 million worth of editorial coverage for Healthcare Connections in less than a month. On the social media side, our
Easy Flu Protection Facebook page was attracting a steady stream of visitors, the videos we uploaded to our YouTube channel were constantly being viewed, and on Twitter the keywords ‘swine flu’ and ‘h1n1’ were among the trending topics day after day for several weeks, keeping our Easy Flu Twitter team very busy! And then it went quiet…

More recently, there’s been a lot of comment in the social media about how much conventional media over-hyped swine flu. Rather like ‘the boy who cried wolf’, there’s a feeling that it went too hard, too fast, and so when serious developments happen, such as the Word Health Organisation declaring a global pandemic, it fell on the deaf ears of a public bored of hearing about swine flu. Forums are asking whether the wide media coverage made too much of a minor virus, and there are conspiracy theories about the virus being released on purpose by drug companies so they can sell more. On one forum recently someone stated: “It’s just another addition to the endless barrage of fear mongering propaganda directed at that general public on a unceasing basis.”

The facts are, however, that swine flu is a serious issue that could have far-reaching consequences not just on a human level but also on the already weak global economy. It’s an issue that every person and every business should give some thought to and not dismiss glibly as media hype. But what do you think – have the media shot us all in the feet?

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