Living Our Truth
by David Waggoner
And they’re off! As we go to press, the Democratic Presidential candidates had finished the first lap around the track and were gearing up for the second. All have been trying to trumpet their message about how to course-correct America, delving into issues from how to fix immigration law so that families would not be separated at the border and, in general, their human rights preserved, to how exactly the finer points of their healthcare plan differentiate them from the others. (That no one is yet seriously discussing the needs of individuals living with HIV/AIDS is a topic for another column) But what I am most concerned about is how their messages and news coverage of the Presidential race will be delivered to voters.
My fear is that once again social media will continue to cause a hydra of havoc, with many poisonous heads.
Let’s not forget that Russian trolls spread misinformation and ideological divisiveness on social media platforms to influence the 2016 Presidential election, according to U.S. intelligence reports. Neither did they stop after Trump won.
But what we read and view on social media already stokes our uncritical acceptance of reports. In the article “Six Ways the Media Influence Elections,” writer Andra Brichacek interviewed, among others, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication Assistant Professor Nicole Dahmen, who reminded: “What we see on Facebook is dictated by algorithms that decide what you see based on what you like and dislike, what you comment on and click on. Rather than getting a diversity of perspectives that contribute to political discourse, we see an echo chamber.”
And yet this echo chamber may be a source of dissonance. According to a recent Pew Research Center study: “About two-thirds of American adults (68%) say they at least occasionally get news on social media, about the same share as at this time in 2017….Many of these consumers, however, are skeptical of the information they see there: A majority (57%) say they expect the news they see on social media to be largely inaccurate. Still, most social media news consumers say getting news this way has made little difference in their understanding of current events, and more say it has helped than confused them (36% compared with 15%).” So consumers have “low trust in news from social media,” the report states, also referencing the same finding in past surveys, yet there is nothing in place beyond a raft of sites (Politifact.com; FactCheck.org) that fact-check news stories. So unless they are constantly getting a second review of the news, consumers are left with confusion, even in the face of balanced, bias-conscious reporting. In some sense, for many on social media, everything starts off as “fake news.”
When it comes to HIV/AIDS, the last thing we need is fake news. That’s why I am heartened by organizations like NAM. With our cover story subject Matthew Hodson at the helm, the NAM/aidsmap.com website welcomes its visitors with their guiding principle: “NAM changes lives by sharing information about HIV & AIDS. We believe independent, clear and accurate information is vital in the fight against HIV & AIDS.” Independent, clear and accurate information, including news, is gathered in one centralized location. It’s no wonder that NAM/aidsmap.com was an official scientific media partner of the International AIDS Society (IAS), most recently covering news from its 10th IAS Conference on HIV Science in Mexico City. When interviewed by A&U contributing writer and columnist John Francis Leonard, Hodson underscored the importance of information based on fact: “Stigma remains the greatest challenge to HIV prevention in the UK and it continues to hamper HIV support and prevention efforts worldwide. I believe that most of the fear and prejudice against people living with HIV can be dispelled with sound information.”
The advocates we feature in this issue, Jason Bennett and Rebekka Armstrong, are also committed to sharing clear and accurate information about HIV and AIDS. And as a magazine, A&U always strives to do the same. Why? Because HIV/AIDS has been haunted over the years by fear-based misinformation and outright lies about those living with the virus. We will always spread the truth as we live our truth!
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.