Crying wolf? Biosecurity and metacommunication in the context of the 2009 swine flu pandemic

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This article explores how the 2009 pandemic of swine flu (H1N1) intersected with issues of biosecurity in the context of an increasing entanglement between the spread of disease and the spread of information. Drawing on research into metacommunication, the article studies the rise of communication about ways in which swine flu was communicated, both globally and locally, during the pandemic. It examines and compares two corpora of texts, namely UK newspaper articles and blogs, written between 28 March and 11 June 2009, that is, the period from the start of the outbreak till the WHO announcement of the pandemic. Findings show that the interaction between traditional and digital media as well as the interaction between warnings about swine flu and previous warnings about other epidemics contributed to a heightened discourse of blame and counter-blame but also, more surprisingly, self-blame and reflections about the role the media in pandemic communication. The consequences of this increase in metacommunication for research into crisis communication are explored.

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