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Contagion and Social Media

September 21, 2011

A movie poster for Contagion

Last week I ran a story about the movie Contagion, and my thoughts about it. I kept it pretty simple, and avoided a lot of the plot. But in this article, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve watched the movie, or that spoilers don’t bother you too much.

I really enjoyed the movie. I know some people found the movie a little dry, and some found it shallow, but I thought it struck a good balance between believable enough without being outlandish – a fact bolstered by how the producers had CDC staff on hand to act as creative consultants. After all, if movies like GI Joe can have military personnel to help them and make sure the military guys are appropriate, why wouldn’t you have an Epidemiologist on hand for a movie about a virus outbreak? I thought the faceless, unrelenting virus was a great “villain” and drove the action forward with a sense of urgency and dread.

When the movie ended, I was happy, but I was left with questions about the movie’s realism. What would the CDC do if there was such an outbreak? How do they plan to tackle it? Would they use traditional means like the news, or do they plan to use social media as well? They’ve updated their website about it and written a blog post too. But those are rather dry – I’d love to be able to sit down with real EIS Agents and ask them questions.

So you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the CDC would be holding a live Q and A on Twitter with four EIS agents.

The CDC has been very proactive about using social media to tackle problems as they arise. They have a blog, their Twitter account, a Facebook page you can “like” and even a YouTube account set up in their name.

Note: You have to click the links below to go to the Storify pages to see the tweets. I tried to embed them into the site, but WordPress won’t let me for some reason. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know either through Twitter or in the comments.

I had a few questions – how realistic was the movie? Is it really just one person from the CDC working with local people? Or is it a a whole team coming in and taking charge? Apparently a mixture – one or two EIS officers work with a local team to tackle the outbreak.

View “CDCContagion – Team Size” on Storify

Kate Winslet

In real life, Kate Winslet would have reported to her boss even less

They were also asked if the movie affected their day to day lives, and their response is one that all Epidemiologists can relate to (now my parents know what I do!)

View “CDCContagion – Perception” on Storify

They also answered questions as to how demanding field work can be, the Krumwiede story arc, as well as why the index case was so important in the movie (as well as in real life).

View “CDCContagion – Field Work, Social Media and Index Cases” on Storify

I think what I enjoyed most about the whole experience was how the CDC guys took their time with all questions, and had fun with it. They had a lot of questions, and they answered a good number of them in the hour they had, including some silly ones.

A bit of back story: I once gave a talk about the Epidemic Intelligence Service, and likened them to a cross between Indiana Jones, Jack Bauer and John Snow. So of course, when I had an audience with real life EIS agents, I asked them what they thought:

View “CDCContagion – Superhero” on Storify

So there you have it. They’re MacGyver mixed with Wonder Woman with Nancy Drew’s fashion sense :)

None of the EIS Officers admitted to being like Batman.

I’ve only recently delved into the world of Twitter, and have found it to be a giant time sink, and also a really fun way to get access to events/stories that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. I highly recommend checking them out, but I will try and post upcoming online events and seminars here for you to check out.

For upcoming CDC Twitter chats, check out this link. While you don’t need a Twitter account to follow along, it makes it a lot more engaging when you can say “Hey, what about Zombie outbreaks?” and have them reply (yes, that is an actual blog post by the CDC about how they would tackle a zombie outbreak).

Finally, thanks to the CDC for hosting the talk, and special thanks to NailaJ, TravisSaunders and TCNoel for suggesting Storify for this piece.

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