Does Twitter Matter When it comes to a Reaching a World Without HIV/AIDS?

Highlights from the HEARD Institute presentation at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne

Ask anyone on the street – is social media changing our world? Indefinitely you will hear how Facebook and Twitter are both bringing people closer together and ripping the fabric of our world apart.  Researchers are using social media more and more to understand more about us as humans and how our online environment impacts us to predicting elections and flu outbreaks.

Social media is providing a platform for activism, such as #bringbackourgirls, discussions about activism, and sharing information through hashtags like #iac2014. Most of our anti-stigma campaigns are based in information sharing. But what do we know about the impact of putting these statements out into the “Twitterverse”?

Our research titled, #Retweet This: HIV Stigma in the Twitterverse, takes a step forward in answering this question. Collecting tweets with HIV or AIDS in them around the International AIDS conference in 2012, we came across several interesting findings:

 

  • Words can have positive, negative and neutral elements to them.  Of the over 200K tweets we analyzed, the most common element was neutral, indicating information dissemination.
  • In addition to positive, negative and neutral elements, a software program also coded words and emoticons for different emotions.  The top three emotions expressed were disgust, amusement (contempt) and anger – emotions associated with stigmatization.
  • Amusement tweets, which were related to “negative” tweets containing jokes associated with HIV/AIDS, went up after the conference.
  •  There was a spike in anger tweets during the conference, possibly related to the protests.
  •  The more “klout,” or value you have as a social object in the Twitterverse, the less stigmatizing words you will put out there; also the more you will be retweeted.
  •  The amount of words one uses in a tweet, when the tweet happened and the “klout” of the tweeter (or value one has as a social object in the Twitterverse) was related to the type of emotion expressed and whether it was retweeted.

The International AIDS Conference provides a time and a space to raise our voices about AIDS, and Twitter is our megaphone.  However, Twitter can be a double-edged sword. We have to come up with contingency plans and alternate ways of using Twitter for anti-stigma campaigns. We, as activists, health workers, researchers and advocates, have all the best intentions of getting our message out there to reduce stigma, but it is much more nuanced that “if you tweet it they will change.

Look for more details in an upcoming manuscript!  This research is a collaborative project between Commission VP Dr. Miriam Vega, Aaron Dabbah of AOL and Emily Klukas, Deputy Director of Research and Evaluation at the Commission.

Written By: Emily Klukas
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