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“Experts Warn of Epidemic of Swine Flu Warnings”

Experts have issued a warning of an impending epidemic of swine flu warnings. The number of victims of these thinly disguised, commercially-motivated warnings is expected to exceed the number of victims of the actual swine flu by many orders of magnitude. “Be leery of anyone using the phrase ‘orders of magnitude’ in casual conversation,” cautioned Larry McWhortle, spokesperson for the Consortium of Industry Experts Consortium (CIEC), “it’s the third most overused credibility-enhancement term in the industry today, just after ‘heuristic’ and ‘statistically significant’.” People are being urged to be on the lookout for vendors shamelessly hawking their wares under the guise of helpful advice.

The CIEC’s undercover watchdog division spoke with representatives from several security and telepresence companies, collecting such candid comments as: “It sure was tough building a convincing ROI model for a quarter of a million dollar video conferencing system,” explained Louis Zephyr, General Manager of NimbusGear, “so being able to add ‘and it will help you not die’ has been quite a boon.” Larry Pawarpointe, Director of Product Management at security vendor MiasmaShield said “we predict a deluge of email spam campaigns, news and social media-linked phishing sites, and questionable pharmaceutical suppliers attempting to foment and capitalize on the swine flu scare.” He then added “And we just don’t think that’s fair. I mean, shouldn’t we get to capitalize on it, too?” Pawarpointe went on to explain that their AngeleDei N95 and N99 appliances can block all spam, phishing URLs, intrusions and malware “better than your box can”. Mark Atingei, a spokesperson from content-management vendor ProtectoBox said “to be honest, their box sucks… our technology has been proven to be at least 58% more effective at twice the speed and half the price.” Baited with questions about their technology’s effectiveness against polymorphic H1N1 variants, he offered, “oh yeah, our next firmware release will protect against all variants, H1N1, H-1B, all of them.”

McWhortle said that in addition to ignoring unabashedly self-interested pseudo-advice, that the CIEC also recommends avoiding the grip of panic-mongering mob broadcasts. “As much as you want to avoid unnecessary exposure to Mexico, confined places, and eschatologists, you should also avoid the seductive allure of misinformative chatter. Stick to reputable and trustworthy sources for your information, and don’t feed on or into the frenzy.” He added that the CIEC will be releasing more complete information on the phenomenon next month in the opaquely titled report “On the social and intellectual decay and morbid delectation of budgerigarish narcissism”.

Clear and Present Danger
It’s intriguing to watch this first significant intersection of an imminent pandemic and broadcast social networks. For all the heat that Twitter is taking for its role in inciting uninformed hysteria, there is a balancing number of accusations that the torrent of tweets is merely filling the void created by outdated and irrelevant methods of traditional government and media communications. While both sides can be argued cogently, a bigger concern is the potential for this new medium to be used not just as a channel for terrorism, but also as its actual weapon. For example, it’s not difficult to imagine concerted psy-ops efforts of terror-inclined human and botnet cohorts tweeting and retweeting messages about water supplies being poisoned, governments waging chemical warfare on their own citizens, or just asking supporters to bring all traffic to a debilitating crawl.

But it would be wrong to blame Twitter for the problem. To borrow a familiar rhetorical structure: “Twitter doesn’t cause stupidity, stupidity causes stupidity.” Twitter is just the latest form of mob broadcast, an easy way to quickly disseminate information, for good or bad. So given the potential for damage that any form of misused mob communications might have, it might not be unreasonable to look to a real-world precedent for handling this sort of propagation of fear: 1919’s Schenck v. United States. Presided over by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr. this case is perhaps best known for giving us the phrase “(falsely) shouting fire in a crowded theater”. In effect, it and its descendants criminalize the act of inciting “imminent lawless action” (e.g. a riot) through speech designed to cause a panic, and is not protected under the (unfortunately frequently abused) First Amendment of the US Constitution. In other words, there’s hope that it could squelch some of the mindless nitwittery by making the worst offenses a misdemeanor. As a means of defense against the sizable potential for this most-recent method of mob communication to incite widespread panics, I expect such rulings to be inevitable. The lesson: Freedom remains more defensible when not abused.

Macrolife Imitates Microlife
One of the more interesting aspects of this hybridized, triple-reassortant H1N1 flu cocktail is the possibility that it can induce a cytokine storm. In oversimplified terms, this is a broadcast-storm-like feedback loop in a healthy immune system that causes exaggerated lung and systemic inflammatory reactions that can prove to be more harmful than the causal virus itself.

The potential for launching an indirect attack against a target by inciting its own immune system to do the bulk of the damage has long fascinated me… The human innate immune systems developed over a long-period of time in response to non-specific threats to which we’ve been chronically and protractedly exposed. It’s evolved to non-adaptively defend against certain pathogen-associated molecular patterns (think signatures), as well as against injury or trauma. This comes in handy when you are gored by a wild boar – the site on the injury becomes inflamed, blood flow is slowed, and you hopefully do not bleed to death. In fact, inflammation is one of the innate immune system’s favorite tactics. Unfortunately, modern life does not present many wild boar encounters, but our immune systems haven’t figured that out yet, so they still like to be inflammatory. Add to that the fact that our average modern diets consist of anywhere from 2-5 times more inflammation-inducing sodium than we really need, and it’s little wonder that we have a spate of auto-immune and inflammatory conditions and “syndromes.”

Just another natural fractal phenomenon, where the parts resemble the whole: virus incapacitates its target by overexciting the targets’ immune system, and news of virus incapacitates informative communication by overexciting the communication channels.

Advice: Afford important matters more than 140 characters. Eat less sodium. Buy stock in Roche.

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