The internet evolved as de facto information system around the world and in India. Dedicated users put out hourly updates

There was no missing it. Anywhere you turned these past few weeks, the pig was all over the place. At least the virus, once born of swine, now mutated into the A(H1N1) influenza was painting the towns a feverish red.

There was information, and misinformation, about the virus via the TV, newspapers and internet. For much of the community in the cities, at least, the net-enabled community, the www has been a huge source of information. While it cannot be denied that it has contributed to some of the panic that has defined this epidemic or near-epidemic, it has oftentimes also been the first source of credible, scientific information on how to prevent an A(H1N1) infection and to handle it.

The internet has now evolved as the de facto information system for a significant and growing population around the world and in India, says Nishant Shah, Director of research, Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore.

He says that in the last two decades internet technologies have played an important role, both in creating safety havens for people to come, discuss, voice their fears and get responses to their queries, as well as in initiating rumour mills which sometimes create great panic attacks.

Melissa Davies wrote in Nielsen Online (http://blog.nielsen.com) in May 2009 .. the buzz volume about swine flu in the blogosphere was still on its meteoric climb, far surpassing discussion levels for the peanut butter/salmonella scare that happened earlier this year…

She adds that a measure of the extent of Internet engagement regarding swine flu is Wikipedia. The sites page on swine influenza has been updated hundreds of times this week. Wikipedia created a separate page focused on the 2009 swine flu outbreak for current information that page has been updated 119 times as of early on May 1.

Not to leave the social networking sites out of the picture, she mentions that there were more than 500 Facebook groups dedicated to Swine Flu as early as May 1. On Twitter, Swine Flu mentions topped out at a rate of more than 10,000 tweets per hour earlier in the week. Dedicated users such as @Swine_Flu_Vrus, and @CDCemergency put out nearly hourly updates from across the world.

Social networking

Social networking fora also became a sort of platform for those who were quivering with fear to seek advice. G-chat and Facebook status messages were in the flu vein: Have cough. Need Mask? ... I have fever and cold. Is it the S.flu?

Apart from lists of symptoms and helplines, many What to do if you have the Swine Flu kind of advisories cropped up online in no time, some culled from information put out by the World Health Organisation and the CDC. This seemed to have assuaged some in a tizzy about the flu.