Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Finally, Open Discussion on AIDS

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Finally, Open Discussion on AIDS

Article excerpt

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 conversation started.

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 have failed.

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 community.

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. …

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