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Schwarzenegger tweets about swine flu. So does everyone else.

Twitter is spreading important information as well
as rumors about the outbreak, raising questions about whether the social networking site is helpful.

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When two cases of swine flu turned up in northern California Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reached for his BlackBerry.

"Just heard 2 in marin recently went to mexico," he posted on Twitter, the social networking and miniblogging site, in reference to news about apparent infections in Marin County. And after he declared a state of emergency over the outbreak, the governor tweeted: "There is no need for alarm."

Swine flu remained the No. 1 topic Wednesday on Twitter, the popular site that allows users to post real-time updates of 140 characters or less. The nonstop stream of comments on the service in the past week have been both accurate and grossly misinformed, leading some critics to question whether such fast-flowing – and increasingly popular – new media tools are helping spread valuable information about the outbreak or simply fanning panic.

"The use of Twitter as a forum to discuss a frightening illness has less to do with updating people with news stories and other developments – it's about spreading gossip, panicking, and potentially misinforming one's followers about a grave concern," wrote Brennon Slattery on his blog at PCWorld.com.

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