BY Bob Adams
November 18 2010 5:00 AM ET
Twitter. YouTube. Facebook. MySpace. Podcasts. Skype. To many people, these names might sound like a foreign tongue.
But a new generation of HIVers and activists is not only fluent in the language of social media and digital communication but also using it more than ever before to inform, connect with, and support their peers. While 20 years ago a person with HIV had to physically volunteer at an AIDS service organization, attend a support group, or join an activist organization like ACT UP to meet others living with the virus, HIVers today can simply plop down in front of their computers and find a supportive, thriving community right at their fingertips.
“What most people do when they’ve been diagnosed is to jump onto Google and start trying to find as much information as they can,” says Philadelphian Robert Breining about the role the Internet plays in most HIVers’ lives. “But people want more than all that medical information. They want to talk with someone like themselves -- who is feeling the same pain and experiencing the same feelings. So I started thinking, Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place like Facebook or MySpace for HIV-positive people where they could do all of that?”
And more and more, it’s the everyday person, like 30-year-old Breining -- and not big corporate entities -- who is creating cross sections of socializing and information sharing for others just like themselves.
In October 2007, Breining launched POZIAM, a free website where users post profiles and photos, send personalized notes, use online chat, create their own blogs, and access message boards. Breining expanded the site a few months later to include a weekly Internet radio broadcast, which today he cohosts with fellow HIVers Jeromy Dunn and former Project Runway star Jack Mackenroth.
Other free websites -- like BeOneCity.com, launched in 2008, and SINMen.net, a networking website created in 2009 by Bryan Levinson, the founder of the global organization Strength in Numbers, similarly provide numerous Facebook-like interactive functions to help HIVers connect with each other. But social networking sites are just one of the myriad ways HIVers are using state-of-the art digital technology to connect to and communicate with each other.