In the last 10 years, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. It keeps us connected with our family, friends and the outside world. We are constantly updated with the latest news headlines, be it the death of a celebrity or the announcement of a celebrity pregnancy/birth.
One of the hot topics at the moment, not just here in the UK but around the globe, is the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child. The world loves it and the media are in overdrive over it.
We also network for personal and professional purposes. Twitter and Facebook are being used more and more as a marketing tool for many businesses, but what about for the promotion of HIV awareness?
Think about it; how well do you know your Twitter followers, for example? You may know who their favourite music artists are, how often they attend the gym or how sore their head is after a night out on the town, but how well do you REALLY know them?
If one of your followers turned around and suddenly said “I am HIV positive” what would your impression be of them? Would you unfollow/unfriend them? Could you disclose your status so openly online where the forum is then open for anybody to reply back with any form of comment?
A close follower of mine has the word positive in his twitter name, but has not posted a picture of himself. When I spoke to him and asked why, he said he lived in a small town in the north of England where everyone knows each other and he also has close friends on Twitter who were not aware of his status, so he was scared and worried about the reaction he may receive. Tom* has since revealed his name to his followers, something I know was a big thing for him, and for that I am proud of him.
I think it is very brave for anyone to be able to disclose such a big thing on an open forum like Twitter. It may not be the 80s anymore but HIV still has a massive stigma to it and a lot of people are fearful. Why are they fearful you ask? People are scared of the unknown.
This is why the importance of promoting HIV awareness online is essential. Nearly everyone has a Facebook or Twitter account which makes these great tools for promoting awareness, the importance of safe sex, etc.
When I revealed my status online I had people who had known me for a while, either personally or just by following me on Twitter, who were shocked. They said I “didn’t look like someone who would have HIV”. What does someone who is positive look like anyway? I will tell you who – the man who walks his dog past your house each day, or the woman with the three kids you see on the school run in the mornings – your ‘everyday person’!
This is just the first step in getting people to overcome the stigma of HIV - awareness, understanding and prevention are three steps which can help stop the spread of HIV and for those who do have it, it is important people understand it doesn’t define that person, it certainly does not define me. “My name is Christian, I am HIV positive” not “Hi I am an HIV positive person and my name is Christian.” My status does not define who I am as a person, it is a small part of me which I control, manage and am fully aware of.
Many of my Twitter followers have messaged me saying how courageous it is for me to come out as positive online, where I can be open to abuse and attack for it. I have been very lucky not to have received any. In fact, it has been quite the opposite, a number of my heterosexual and gay followers have asked me about it – how long have I known, how it has affected me since my diagnosis, relationships, etc. and they have thanked me for talking about it as they have learned so much.
Those who are also positive have thanked me for it as well. Another follower only discovered his status in the past few months and he said he felt at ease, and I know he is looking forward to this article going live.
Why did I choose to disclose, you may ask? My answer is simple – to raise awareness and for people to see we are just like everyone else, living normal lives, but just happen to be fighting this disease in a controlled manner, and getting on with our daily lives. Another reason is that if I can bring comfort to one person who is positive and feel that their life is over, I just want them to understand that it is not. It is only the beginning of a new chapter - and life goes on.
For me, Twitter has been a great tool and I hold my hand out there to anyone else who may be scared and frightened. Take the leap, it’s a big one but the support you can receive by people becoming aware is amazing.
Looking at the other end of the spectrum, you don’t have to, and people shouldn’t judge you should you choose not to disclose. However, for me and I know for many others, it is a massive sigh of relief and a great weight lifted off my chest.
*Tom’s name has been changed to protect his identity.