Monday, September 15, 2008

Small Steps, Lead to Big Change

by Thomas Henning

The use of new media as a tool to spread awareness messages regarding HIV/AIDS is in its infancy but it is growing fast. On Facebook, there are over 500 AIDS-related groups. Games are being developed to raise HIV/AID awareness. One example is Pos or Not, a game that was designed to engage young people about HIV and who it affects in personal ways. This game, which came about through collaboration with MTVU and The Kaiser Family Foundation, had nearly 200,000 unique visitors play in the first 24 hours of its launch.

At the International AIDS Conference (IAC), Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS put it best when he said, “It is time that prevention programs embrace Facebook, texting, all the communication means, the new information technology that young people are using. It is not by billboards that we are going to introduce social change and personal behavior on a large scale.”

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Piot. I mean, New Media is part of our everyday lives and it would seem in any agency’s best interest to put some time in developing a plan that incorporates media, both new and traditional, in its prevention outreach strategies.

Cable Positive is not only embracing new forms of media as a tool to engage users in the fight against HIV/AIDS, we are also creating new initiatives that encourage individuals and communities to do the same. These new initiatives will not only embrace new forms of media, and take advantage of this new era of media literacy, it will teach people how to use these new forms of media to spread HIV/AIDS awareness.

Here is the thing, when you have resources like some of the national groups do, it is easier to develop these new media strategies. When funding is as much an issue for you as it is a rural ASO/CBO, more opportunities may be available to you. The thing is, even if you don’t have the resources you have the opportunity and I think that is something that a lot of individuals and organizations do not understand.

During the coming week, I will be holding a couple of workshops during NMAC’s United States Conference on AIDS in Fort Lauderdale. I will be discussing how organizations can use media, both traditional and new, to strengthen and diversify their prevention efforts. I will touch on a couple of initiatives that Cable Positive is funding as examples. Together we will work together to come up with an outline that people can take back to their communities to use.

Cable Positive’s new initiative, YAMI, or the Youth AIDS Media Institute, will encourage the use of all the mediums Dr. Piot called attention to at IAC to fully engage youths on their playing field. There needs to be a catalyst for change, using new forms of media could provide that spark.

After the conference, the Cable Positive team will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to discuss YAMI with elected officials. That’s right, on September 24, 2008, Cable Positive will be on Capitol Hill to hold a breakfast panel hosted by Congresswoman Diane E. Watson (CA), who chairs the Entertainment Industries Caucus, titled “Youth, AIDS, and Media: Multi-Platform Advocacy in a New Era of Prevention.”

We’ll discuss the ways young people have, and can have an impact on spreading HIV/AIDS awareness messages using platforms like text messaging, as well as social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

With the rollout of YAMI we hope to stand beside organizations around the country and take a step out of infancy and start taking steps forward. You know, maybe they will be small steps at first but, in my opinion, it is the small steps that lead to the biggest change.

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