Online HIV awareness and technology affordance benefits for black female collegians — maybe not: the case of stigma

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Objective: We investigate the technology affordances associated with and anticipated from an online human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention awareness platform, myHealthImpactNetwork, intended to reach black female college students. This population is at increased risk for HIV transmission, but is not often studied. In addition, this population regularly uses digital tools, including Web sites and social media platforms, to engage in health information seeking.

Materials and Methods: We conducted 11 focus groups with 60 black female college students attending 2 universities in the United States. Focus groups were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using content analyses.

Results: Contrary to our proposition, the participants’ information needs did not align with the anticipated benefits associated with the technology affordances of the prevention awareness platform. Concerns about personal online social capital, reputation management, and stigma limited participants’ willingness to engage with the HIV prevention content on the website.

Discussion: Although the participants use digital tools as a primary means of becoming informed about health, concerns that friends, family, and others in their social networks would assume that they were HIV infected limited their willingness to engage with myHealthImpactNetwork. Print media and conversations with health care professionals were preferred channels for obtaining HIV prevention information.

Conclusions: Perceptions of stigma associated with HIV negatively impact health information seeking and sharing in the online social networks in which black college students engage. However, by understanding the unanticipated consequences, researchers can effectively design for cultures and subcultures infected and affected by health disparities.

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