Online HIV prevention information: How black female college students are seeking and perceiving

Fay Cobb Payton, Lynette Kvasny, James Kiwanuka-Tondo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Purpose - Two research questions are addressed: what are black female college students’ perceptions of current messages present on web sites about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention?; and what messages do black female college students find culturally relevant to them, and why? Results indicate that these women perceive several communication barriers including lack of trust and unfamiliarity with information sources, stigma ascribed to HIV, as well as misconceptions and traditional values held by some in the black community and health institutions. HIV prevention messages are perceived as relevant if they exhibit qualities including interactive features. The paper aims to discuss these issues. Design/methodology/approach-To understand black collegiate women as health information seekers, it is important to engage paradigms that allow researchers to make sense of how group members construct their content needs, what helps shape this construction, and the meaning derived from the consumption of the information, focus groups are an effective qualitative method for enabling collective discussion and interaction between research participants that facilitates the exploration of under-researched topics like HIV prevention as well as the language commonly used by respondents to describe HIV from a socio-cultural perspective. The research team conducted three focus groups to appraise current black female college students’ attitudes and perceptions of messages presented on HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness web sites Findings-HIV prevention messages are perceived as relevant if they exhibit qualities including interactive features, practical advice using non-technical vocabulary, content authored and disseminated by familiar and trustworthy individuals and institutions, and risk related to individual behaviors rather than the demographic group. Implications of the findings and suggestions for future research on the design of health information systems are provided. Research limitations/implications-This research is based on a small sample size based on one region of the USA. Practical implications-Health communication materials should also provide strategies for dispelling myths, and combating feelings of stigma, and mistrust. In addition, practical advice such as questions to ask physicians may help to produce positive and desirable outcomes as black women seek services from the healthcare system. The message itself must take into account a number of factors include short and simple messages, clean web pages, navigation structures that make information easy to find, comprehensive information all found in a single web site, and interactive features to facilitate discussion and sharing. In particular, with social media, women can also play a role in the creation and dissemination of health messages in multiple modalities including text, spoken word, still and moving images, and music. Social implications-“A major component of preventive health practice is the availability and provision of information regarding risks to health and promotional measures for enhancing the health status among this population” (Gollop, 1997, p. 142). However, as Dervin (2005) cautions, while information is necessary, it is insufficient to encourage behavior change. To combat the health disparities that differentially impact African-American women requires expertize and understanding from multiple perspectives. By providing insight into how black collegiate women perceive HIV prevention information needs, the women in the focus groups lend a necessary voice in the effort toward healthy equity through the creation of effective health interventions that will appeal to them. Originality/value-The author seeks to create an online and socially connected experience characteristic of ongoing user input and active engagement in content development which targets the population. From a human-computer interaction viewpoint, the authors are seeking to avoid design divorced from context and meaning. In developing such an experience, the authors will need to triangulate the roles of culture, context, and design to reduce the content divide, yet amplify the notion of participatory web. Participatory web embodies a social justice movement to build web content from voices typically dampened in the discourse. It (re)shapes meaning, identity, and ecologies in the process of foci on particular social, health, and political causes (e.g. HIV/AIDS). Giving black women ownership over the creation of health information on the internet may improve the ability to provide targeted HIV prevention content that is culturally salient and more effective in reducing HIV infections in this community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-543
Number of pages24
JournalInternet Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 29 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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