Article

HIV denial in the Internet era.

Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Iowa City, Iowa, United States of America.
PLoS Medicine (Impact Factor: 14). 09/2007; 4(8):e256. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040256
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The Internet has served as a fertile and un-refereed medium to spread HIV denialist beliefs, argue the authors.

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    ABSTRACT: Background: The rise of social media proved to be a fertile ground for the expansion of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)-denialist movement (in the form of online communities). While there is substantial literature devoted to disproving AIDS-denialist views, there is a lack of studies exploring AIDS-denialists online communities that interact with an external environment. Objective: We explored three research areas: (1) reasons for newcomers to come to an AIDS-denialist community, (2) the patterns of interactions of the community with the newcomers, and (3) rhetorical strategies that denialists use for persuasion in the veracity of their views. Methods: We studied the largest AIDS-denialist community on one of the most popular social networking services in Russia. We used netnography as a method for collecting data for qualitative analysis and observed the community for 9 months (at least 2-3 times a week). While doing netnography, we periodically downloaded community discussions. In total, we downloaded 4821 posts and comments for analysis. Grounded theory approach was used for data analysis. Results: Most users came to the community for the following reasons: their stories did not fit the unitary picture of AIDS disease progression translated by popular medical discourse, health problems, concern about HIV-positive tests, and desire to dissuade community members from false AIDS beliefs. On the basis of strength in AIDS-denialist beliefs, we constructed a typology of the newcomers consisting of three ideal-typical groups: (1) convinced: those who already had become denialists before coming to the group, (2) doubters: those who were undecided about the truth of either human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) science theory or AIDS-denialist theory, and (3) orthodox: those who openly held HIV science views. Reception of a newcomer mainly depended on the newcomer’s belief status. Reception was very warm for the convinced, cold or slightly hostile for the doubters, and extremely hostile or derisive for the orthodox. We identified seven main rhetorical strategies of persuasion used by the denialists on the “undecided”. Conclusions: Contrary to the widespread public health depiction of AIDS denialists as totally irrational, our study suggests that some of those who become AIDS denialists have sufficiently reasonable grounds to suspect that “something is wrong” with scientific theory, because their personal experience contradicts the unitary picture of AIDS disease progression. Odd and inexplicable practices of some AIDS centers only fuel these people’s suspicions. We can conclude that public health practitioners’ practices may play a role in generating AIDS-denialist sentiments. In interactions with the newcomers, the experienced community members highlighted the importance of personal autonomy and freedom of choice in decision making consistent with the consumerist ideology of health care. The study findings suggest that health care workers should change a one-size-fits-all mode of counseling for a more complex and patient-tailored approach, allowing for diversity of disease progression scenarios and scientific uncertainty
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