Advances in transportation certainly facilitate the spread of diseases like swine flu. With thousands of people traveling between cities and countries on a daily basis, whether by planes, trains or automobiles, the speed and breadth of potential transmission is far greater than in early times.
However, technological advances have led to the creation of the Internet, where people at their fingertips can gain access to up-to-the minute information about problems as soon as they occur and how they might be able to address those problems.
Literally, within a matter of moments after diagnoses of actual swine flu infections, information was posted in many places on the World Wide Web to inform people of potential swine flu hot spots, best practices to avoid infection, and what to do if infection occurs. International, national and local email alerts also have been provided to help address the crisis. Hopefully, the spread of information, instead of the spread of infection, will help keep the potential pandemic from unfolding to a great extent.
As just one example of where to find important information online, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention maintains a valuable page devoted to swine flu at http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu .
If it ultimately becomes the case that people truly need to reduce their direct exposure to each other for a period of time, no matter how brief, the fact that we can communicate with each other through the Internet also helps life to go on. People still can conduct business and network online even if they are not meeting in person.
Of course, 24/7 communication can feed potential hysteria, can provide a means for bogus information and improper marketing, and can cause people to suffer from negative information burnout. Still, the advantages of mass communication appear to outweigh the downsides, and we must hope that complete and accurate information will carry the day.
It is further possible that certain individuals at some point might pursue legal claims, arguing that they relied to their detriment on swine flu information posted online. They might argue that they counted on information that they accessed in deciding where to go, and how to avoid and then how to treat the swine flu; if they end up catching the disease, they might blame those whose information they relied upon.
Along these lines, it is important for posters of swine flu information to be clear that they are providing tips in an effort to be helpful, that recipients of the information are responsible ultimately for making their own decisions, there are no guarantees in this area, and that the information provided does not constitute advice rendered by a physician for a specific patient.
This column will be posted on April 28. It is strongly hoped that by the time of the next column one week later that the swine flu worries will have abated, at least to some extent, and perhaps the Internet will have done its job in helping in achieving that result. But even if the swine flu continues to spread, let’s hope that the Internet still will function as a valuable information tool in dealing with the crisis.
Good luck to all of us, and wash your hands!
Swine flu creates controversy on Twitter (CNN)
Twitter + Swine Flu = Stupid (Wonkette)
Swine flu : Walking the line between hyping and helping (Reuters)
No, You Cannot Catch the Swine Flu From Twitter (PC World)
Center for Disease Control’s Twitter Feed (Twitter)
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com