The Dangerous Side of Blogging & HIV

Mainstream media loves a scary story about Social Media. Well, I have one of my own. I was a little nervous thinking about my approach to writing this blog entry. Overall, I am perhaps overly optimistic about the Social Web and the Web as a whole. Last year, I experienced the dark side of the Web.

In 2005 I began a blog called “Slimconomy” about the business and economics of HIV/AIDS. Why? Well, I had the distinct privilege of working for 3 years at the very front line of the battle against HIV/AIDS. I was marketing, globally, a 90-second rapid test for HIV. Arguably the best in the world. After 3 years of trotting around the world to some of the more remote and darker parts (Western and Central Africa and Latin America) on the road 80% of the time, I was exhausted. I decided a change was in order and left a great company, MedMira, which has a great product. I’m HIV negative just to state that. Anyone who calls it a “gay disease” is ignorant and daft beyond consideration.
Without going into the scary details of the business of HIV here, I’ll tell the quick story. A year into my blogging, I wrote an article about the people who believe AIDS is a government/mega-corporation conspiracy despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Despite that I held a dying mother in my arms in a remote African village as her two sons of 6 and 7 looked on. Despite the horrors I’d seen in real-life. They are called the AIDS-Denialists. There are many of them.
My first blog entry attracted some heated blasts at me for writing against them. I wrote again. More hatred spewed at me. So I wrote again. From there it started to escalate. Within two weeks I received nastier and nastier emails.
Then it got worse. I got a phone call at home. It was a death threat. I thought, OK, a phone call is one thing. I ignored it and wrote more, delving into the bizarre beliefs of these denialists. Then I got a letter in the mail. Another death threat.
Yes, it was police time. Without going into too much detail, the threat was considered by authorities to be real, and from a known source of violent action – the detail was frightening. With a family I hold so dearly to my heart, it was time to think hard about what I was doing. I was writing a book about the business of HIV, with a contract from a publisher waiting to be signed.
With a very heavy heart, I put the blog into “hibernation”, especially after Google contacted me about a Denial of Service Attack against my blog and some shifty moves by a far-right Christian Fundamentalist group.
The blog is hibernating more than a year later. I’ve had no more threats. Perhaps this blog post will produce some. Hopefully not. But it was a walk on the darkside of Social Media. One I hope never to take again. Perhaps I’ll have the courage to bring Slimconomy back, but for now, not so.
Why “Slimconomy”? Well, in Africa, AIDS is called “Slim” because of the wasting part of the disease. Hence the economics of HIV and “Slim” = Slimconomy.
That’s my experience of the downside of Social Media.
Photo credit: Valerie_Everett from Flickr

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