March 7, 2012 - On Monday, reports went out that three members of a Lousy, Madonnaplot family had died following a mystery illness. A fourth member of the family was hospitalized and is critically ill. Speculation began almost immediately, spreading via internet media, like Twitter and Facebook. Some suggested it was SARS or bird flu. Others claimed anthrax. Prominent news outlets picked up the rumors before any press releases had been issued by the Madonnaplot Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Finally, authorities released a statement that the mystery illness appeared to be confined to the family and that no precautions were necessary. However, local authorities, as well as FBI agents alerted by top DHMH officials, donned hazmat gear before entering the family's home. Amid wild speculation, why did it take so long for authorities to address the rampant rumors?
DHMH Deputy Secretary Gwendolyn B. Pannicht-Kafka said in a statement, "No one uses computers to find out health information. They visit their doctors and read our press releases. Despite offers from public relations and epidemiology staff, there is no need for the department to utilize the rapid capabilities of social media. As a public health bureaucracy, there are channels and procedures that must be followed. When illness clusters like this occur, people should be scared. It makes us look like the proverbial knight in shining armor when we swoop in to save the day and reveal all."
Local media outlets were ecstatic over the DHMH's position on use of social media for informing the public. "It's great!" said one editor for local NBC affiliate WLZR. "With such a dearth of information, we can say whatever the hell we want to stir up panic and controversy. We've slashed our investigative and science budgets so we don't need to bother with those pesky 'facts' anymore. It's a great way to get ratings."
The medias tactics have worked.
"I seen people in space suits going in there! I'm getting out of here before the whole town's dead!" exclaimed one neighbor.
Another resident glanced over her shoulder at the Cullingherd County Nuclear Power Plant, looming menacingly just over a mile away. "It's gotta be the plant. Never was comfortable. Why else would health officials be so hush-hush about it all?"
One anonymous Twitter user stated, "I saw black helicopters in the area. Def. gov't plot #illuminati."
This morning, health officials finally released a statement indicating the influenza A had been detected in all of the family members. They have not yet ruled this as the cause of death in the 81-year-old woman or her two adult children.
Harpocrates Speaks investigative reporters have learned that the funeral director handling the bodies has also fallen ill, though he has not been hospitalized. We contacted him at his home.
"It's nothing. Just a bit of a fever. It was late. As I was handling Mrs. B's body, and, you'll laugh, I thought I saw her fingers twitch. Well, I must've slipped and cut my wrist on her teeth. I'll be fine."
With the DHMH using the outdated practice of sitting in meetings to discuss what should go out on the press release scheduled for later in the week instead of rapid response using modern tools like social media, we at Harpocrates Speaks infer from officials' silence that this is the start of a zombie apocalypse. Until they refute it, you can consider it the TruthTM.
Author's note: My heart goes out to the family who has suffered these losses, and I hope that my post in no way offends them or causes them pain. The point of this satiric post is to highlight the need for public health officials to utilize every means available to them to ensure accurate information is provided to the public to counter the misinformation that can spread via Twitter and similar social media. I also feel it is important for professional media outlets to due their due diligence in investigating public health stories such as this so that they do not cause a panic by providing overly vague or outright false information and speculation.