If the ‘90s taught us anything, it’s that disease is dangerous and moves very quickly, as evident in the 1995 thriller Outbreak. If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it goes something like this: a super dangerous virus is discovered in Africa in the late ‘60s, covered up by the government and forgotten until the mid-‘90s when it resurfaces. A lab test monkey which is being brought to the United States is infected with the disease, unbeknownst to Patrick Dempsey, who tries to sell the animal on the black market. As you can probably surmise, the monkey affects one person, is released into the wild, and before long California has a town quarantined, people are sick and dying, and Dustin Hoffman is trying his best to catch a monkey the size of a housecat before said California town is destroyed.
Now, imagine if that was real and if Twitter was around. I can already see the monkey’s novelty account.
The Hollywood scenario outlined above recently played out in real life at the Archipelago Journalism Conference in Alberta, Canada. Granted there were no monkeys, Dustin Hoffman, or death, but there was an outbreak of Norovirus (another term for stomach flu). Of the 360 conference participants, 150 became ill, but thanks to quick thinking by the organizers and Twitter, that number could have been much higher.
Twitter is proving to be a valuable tool in the wake of disasters and major events. After the earthquake in Turkey, survivors used the platform to let others know they were alive. During the incident at Virginia Tech back in December, students and police used Twitter to communicate what was going on as the campus sat under lock-down. Using a high-speed social media platform is becoming the norm when dealing with events, and the conference in Canada proved to be no different.
The first few days of the conference went along as planned. There were speakers, new learning experiences, and new friends to be made. And then, it happened.
During the final keynote, organizers were notified of an attendee vomiting. As they responded, they became aware of another person getting sick. Then another, and another. Cue the domino effect.
As participants rode on the bus heading back to their hotel, more attendees became ill. Then came the tweets. As attendees began posting updates on who was getting sick, conference organizers began checking the stream and sharing information as quickly as possible. Participants had been posting updates to #nash74 and as the people in charge noticed the magnitude of tweets surrounding sickness, someone made the conscious decision to cancel the rest of the evening events and send everyone back to the hotel.
The scene at the hotel began to resemble something out of 28 Days Later. More and more people became ill and before long, Twitter was serving as a guide as to what areas of the hotel were the most infected.
Organizers leveraged Twitter to let conference-goers know they would be coming around with fluids and medicine, and left instructions as to where they would be and when. Twitter also served as a virtual meeting place where the healthy could pass information on to their fellow attendees.
Having Twitter was beneficial to the attendees as well as the staff. By using a social platform, information was able to reach a wide audience in a short amount of time. Additionally, everyone involved was able to stay on top of information in real time, a comforting fact to many of the people who were sick. Social media platforms are evolving and soon may be the default method of contact during major events.
The ill attendees stayed at the hotel a few days longer before finally heading home.