Sharp criticism has rattled African-American institutions for
their deep reluctance to generate conversation about HIV/AIDS - a
leading cause of death for middle-age adult African-American men and
women. Because social stigma has precluded open, healthy face-to-
face discussion on the issue, the vital role of community as a
support system has crumbled.
Now, the Internet is picking up the slack and getting the
Community support - including the ability to discuss and address
issues that threaten survival - is critical to us as social beings.
Stable communities share three important components: a home (first
place), a work place (second place), and an informal public
gathering location (third place), such as a church, cafe, community
center, or even barbershop.
If one of these is missing or fails to provide a place for
discussion on life-threatening issues, the stability of the
community is in jeopardy. Such an absence of a "third place" in the
face of HIV/AIDS poses a serious threat to African-Americans.
Thankfully, technology's far reach means the Web is emerging as a
powerful third place where traditional institutions and communities
Evidence shows that members of the African-American community
have resorted to forming social bonds within the vibrant online
community nicknamed the "Blackosphere" as an alternative way to
connect with like-minded individuals.
These virtual communities, such as Black America Web, are created
by, and are principally for, African-Americans. Through news,
commentary, blogs, and discussion, they help empower members to
mobilize around causes and issues that are critical to the black
These sites are proving to be part of the new front line in the
fight against HIV/AIDS. They provide a type of social setting for
African-Americans to gather en masse and discuss the disease openly
when it's still taboo to discuss the issue face to face. Within the
framework of computer-mediated communication, individuals dealing
with HIV/AIDS can rebuild aspects of social support that may be lost
due to stigma and reach out to those who may not have had access to
such support in the first place.
And through casual acquaintances online, individuals can reach
beyond their established real-life social networks, to access
informal networks that may have information to which their own home
and workplace networks may not be privy. …