aidsoversixty

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James Hall, Swazi Observer: Getting HIV/AIDS from facebook

Getting HIV/AIDS from facebook
by James Hall, October 5, 2011

chers—

blaming the messenger in swaziland

—rk

“GETTING AIDS from Facebook” is a sensational-sounding suggestion, but it is a real concern raised by health officials.

They look at the popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites such as My Space and they also follow the reports of women who are introduced to lovers by way of the web.

Some of these romantic encounters have led to abuse and violence instead of the romance desired by the social networking users when they leave the anonymity of the web and the safety of the home or office computer for the unknown of the real life meeting.

And if the person who is met on line is HIV positive?  This adds another danger to the equation.

Social networking sites are an advance from the previous anonymous communication on the Internet.  People a few years ago tended to use pseudonyms instead of their real names, and of course even today people can say whatever they like on the web, cloaked as they are by the ignorance of people who do not know them and protected by distance from everyone else on the web.

Commercial

Seeking romance has been a commercial venture on the Internet for years.  Dating and mating sites allow users, for a fee, to connect with persons they desire.

These services require the user to submit personal information, including their likes and dislikes and the type of individual they seek as a date or as a mate, and the information is processed against a database of hundreds and even thousands of potential ‘dates’ and ‘mates.’

Has there ever been the question posed to users: Are you HIV positive?

Do users ask this question when they seek a date or a mate?

Of course, even if the question were posed unless medial proof is provided, there is no way of knowing whether someone answering that he or she is HIV negative is telling the truth.  It is no different from any flesh and blood encounter.  The people seeking each other must do a little probing; get to know each other, before committing to a meeting and then a relationship.

Unfortunately, the speed of technology has its social parallel in Internet users who are speeding into relationships.

According to one study, conducted by Oxygen Media and Lightspeed Research in the US, 57% of American women aged 18-34 years chat to people online instead of face to face.  In Swaziland Internet use is developing, and at an increasing pace now that smart phone permit mobile connections, and the degree of texting done in public is there for all to see.  As Internet use increases, so do its dangers.

The Association for Progressive Communications has reported that almost one million adults are the victims of cyber-stalking every year.  In many cyber crimes, women log onto the internet to find their faces have been placed on pornographic pictures and posted, sometimes alongside personal information.  Facebook has 750 million users around the world.  A woman’s unsecured Facebook pages can give sexual predators access to personal information.  They then send a ‘friend request,’ and endeavour to create a cyber relationship.

One health advocate said, “I use social media as an effective and quick means of communicating, socialising, sharing information related to my work, advertising products, connecting with colleagues and peers and undertaking HIV prevention and mitigation and women’s rights advocacy.  A large number of people use social networking for similar purposes, but there is a rising trend of these platforms (which women are increasingly encouraged to utilise) being used to intensify incidences of violence against women in the form of emotional abuse, sometimes as a precursor to physical violence. This is really scary.”

She feels there must be an increased effort to inform women how to protect themselves and also benefit from utilising social media. Women need more knowledge about how to use the internet safely, how to identify web-based violence and on national laws and policies protecting them from violence perpetrated over the internet.

In South Africa, there is a campaign aimed at doing this.  ‘Take Back the Tech!’ is scheduled to occur during the 25 November to 10 December ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.’

‘Take Back the Tech!’ is aimed at encouraging women and girls to take control of the technology they use that may lead to violence against women.  The initiative’s website is full of information for women on how to be safer online and practical ways to protect their personal information when using the internet.

Here’s the link: www.takebackthetech.net.

 Literature

The initiative literature promotes a need to actively engage women and civil society organisations on the dangers of Internet usage, such as emotional abuse, cyber-stalking and identity theft.

“The anonymity of the internet provides protection from identification and retribution and makes it easier to mount a campaign of abuse against someone, even from the other side of the world.  The Internet can be both a tool for empowering and for terrorising women.  They need to be given the tools to help reinforce the former and prevent the latter,” it says.

There is nothing wrong with meeting someone over the Internet.  But like any meeting, trust and truth are the foundation for a further relationship.  In the Age of AIDS, these qualities have more than emotional resonance.

They can prevent an HIV infection.

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