Ebola, in 140 Characters

Hi everyone, my latest piece on Cafe is a look at the collision of social media and Ebola hysteria. I start by looking at how social media, and Twitter in particular, has amplified the buzz around Ebola. In some cases, people have seized the attention to further their own political, business or research interests. Conservative pundits like Bill O’Reilly and George Will, for example, have suggested that Ebola warrants a quarantine on all flights from West Africa, making inaccurate claims that Ebola could become airborne against the statements of many medical experts. This approach is not only logistically flawed—what about the people who transfer flights in Europe?—it also discourages much-needed medical attention abroad.

As people became saturated with all the media attention, I noticed another shift in mood. Twitter feeds stopped worrying about Ebola, and instead started making fun of the paranoia surrounding it. The problem is, Ebola is still a serious problem—and even if it is not in danger of escalating in the United States, it continues to plague tens of thousands of Africans. We can’t afford to, but we are growing apathetic. In the media’s attempts to generate attention, and then downplay attention, has Ebola become nothing more than a frenzy of 140-character quips? Has social media completely co-opted the Ebola epidemic, transforming it from a major world problem to a series of blips on people’s computer screens?

Read more here.

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