The Umbrella under the Dome of Stigma: A Discourse Analysis on Users’ Needs for Perceived Anonymity and Virtual Diagnosis of a Taiwanese HIV/AIDS Forum

  • 宋 彥萱

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

Abstract

With the advances in Internet technology there is a dramatic increase of reliance on online healthcare consultation especially for stigmatized diseases or health conditions While the search for health information on disease prevention or treatment and social support are two commonly documented functions of most health forums those of HIV/AIDS are not well explored To fill this gap the present study examined discourse patterns by users of an HIV/AIDS forum based in Taiwan with a comparison of those by users of other health forum including syphilis teen pregnancy tuberculosis (TB) and cancer With this comparative approach we aim to see the psychosocial characteristics of users of the HIV/AIDS forum and their perception of the forum’s functions By examining 82 users’ postings on the HIV/AIDS forum and a total of 216 postings on the other four medical consultation forums our analysis manifests the following five discourse patterns (1) Compared to the other four forums users of the HIV/AIDS forum displayed the highest need for diagnosing or confirming their HIV infection status (i e 89% as compared to 48% for diagnosing a syphilis infection status 34% for TB infection 30% for pregnancy status and 2% for cancer status) (2) Such a strong need for an online diagnosis perceived by the HIV/AIDS forum users might appear to be “redundant” or “ungrounded” as 20% of their posting actually revealed that their “HIV negative status” (i e they are HIV free) were already confirmed by previous tests (3) About 54% of the suspected HIV transmission routes described in the users’ postings are sex-related behaviors and 42% are routes which are generally not considered as possible ones (4) Compared to the other four forums users of the HIV/AIDS forum also displayed a highest preference for formulating their usernames which do not carry a sense of human name (59% e g “1234567” or “小酒館/Small Inn”) or a sense of gender (61% e g “匿名者/Anonymous Person” or “TMAC”) but convey a sense of emotional turmoil (34% e g “煎熬/Suffering” or “日也想夜也想/Worry Day And Night”) (5) While the majority of the 82 usernames of the HIV/AIDS forum are “genderless” (61%) the rest of them are more constructed with a masculine sense (33% e g “阿虎/A-hu” or “Sam”) than a feminine sense (6% e g “Fay” or “Daisy”) Also the psychosocial features of users of the HIV/AIDS forum revealed in our study showed that they were: (1) mainly (male) individuals worrying about HIV transmission via sexual behavior and (2) individuals with a high HIV/AIDS literacy strong need for perceived anonymity strong feeling of being HIV positive and (3) individuals with a unanimous goal of looking for virtual diagnosis These findings may shed a light for medical professionals in public health regarding HIV/AIDS prevention for high-risk groups of different social backgrounds With the above discourse findings in compared the HIV/AIDS forum with four medical consultation forums based in Taiwan we argued that multiple levels of stigma rooted in Taiwanese society toward “abnormal” sexual behaviors (e g homo excessive pre-marital sex) infectious disease (e g AIDS syphilis or TB) or relatively high mortality disease (e g AIDS or cancer) have driven individuals with “high HIV/AIDS literacy ” “a strong need for perceived anonymity” and “a strong feeling of being HIV positive” (even to the point of being “an AIDS worried-well or AIDS phobia”) to look for “virtual diagnosis” on the HIV/AIDS forum In other words unlike the functions of providing health information or social support of other health forums observed in previous studies that of the HIV/AIDS forum perceived by users in our study is the “umbrella” that frees them from disclosing any social identity shields them from tremendous stigma and reassures them with a virtual diagnosis This study contributes to the field of Internet health discourse in the following way It demonstrates how the strong stigma associated with HIV/AIDS may drive its potential sufferers to construct language use as a way to protect their social identity to reveal their anxiety and also to serve their needs for medical help
Date of Award2016 Jun 17
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMei-Hui Tsai (Supervisor)

Cite this

The Umbrella under the Dome of Stigma: A Discourse Analysis on Users’ Needs for Perceived Anonymity and Virtual Diagnosis of a Taiwanese HIV/AIDS Forum
彥萱, 宋. (Author). 2016 Jun 17

Student thesis: Master's Thesis