Scott McPherson and Chris Richey of the Stigma Project created an Internet meme in response to a celebrity’s nasty and uninformed comments. The pair had created the Stigma Project in February to break down HIV prejudices through art and education, but the meme quickly went viral, receiving more than 5.000 Facebook comments and nearly 2,000 shares on the social media site.
One goal of the Stigma Project is to create an HIV-neutral world, which its mission statement describes “as a state of mind regardless of your status, in which you are informed and aware of the constantly evolving state of HIV/AIDS. . . . It is putting emphasis on the humanity of all people and not casting judgment because of their status, positive or negative.” McPherson and Richey see the Stigma Project, as not only aimed at reducing the number of new infections, but making life better for persons living with HIV. Richey explains that to become HIV-neutral, people must begin shifting toward a new way of thinking about HIV/AIDS, including by moving away from thoughts of death and sadness and toward thoughts of life and hope for the future.
Supporters state that the messages of the Stigma Project are appealing as they are witty and humorous and “not heavy-handed or preachy.” McPherson and Richey plan to have ads on bus benches and billboards, but at present they are focusing on getting their memes on Facebook and Twitter, where young people pay attention and spread information to friends. McPherson explains that around 84 percent of the world’s 18–34-year olds can be reached through social media, and this is the age range with the highest rate of new HIV infections. He and Richey recognized an opportunity to do something new to educate the public about HIV and use the popularity of Internet memes and social media activism to reduce the harmful stigma associated with it.
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