Researchers find 'raw' data in African-American blog community

August 26, 2008

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A recent project gave two IST researchers access to unfiltered data on an African-American blog, allowing them to examine how members of the black community are connecting online to discuss HIV and AIDS.

Lynette Kvasny, an associate professor in Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), is an avid blog reader and noticed an interesting conversation on one following an August 2006 ABC News story on HIV/AIDS among African-Americans.

"I was really surprised by some of the things I was reading … these were things that I'd never seen discussed in a public forum before," Kvasny said. "I thought there must be some way to turn this into something scholarly."

Kvasny and C. Frank Igwe, an IST doctoral degree recipient, analyzed 128 responses to the ABC News story from Aug. 24 to Aug. 26, 2006. They separated the comments into themes, including ineffective leadership in the black community; the relationship between hip-hop culture and AIDS; and the portrayal of AIDS and African-Americans in the media — providing a basis for the researchers to analyze how ethnic identities are conveyed through technology.

Doing this research presented a unique challenge, Kvasny said, because she and Igwe wanted to use the unscripted comments from the anonymous blog posters while still following ethical research practices.

"This data is very raw, it's not sanitized like you would get in a lab or more formal setting," Kvasny said. "That's very good for us as researchers, but we also had to consider that these bloggers might not have ever intended that people would re-use their comments."

For their paper, "An African-American Weblog Community's Reading of AIDS in Black America," the researchers did not use the real names of the blog or its commenters, but did copy some comments verbatim from the blog to provide representative examples of topics that were discussed.

Kvasny also noted the varying levels of community that exist within the blog, saying that while individual users are anonymous, they all are united by a common language and a desire to speak out about HIV/AIDS and other issues affecting the black community. Blogs and message boards also allow people to voice their own opinions, rather than being spoken for by one or several people in the mass media.

"Communities like this give people a place to talk about things they couldn't talk about elsewhere," Kvasny said. "The affordances of technology allow people to become members of a virtual community while still remaining anonymous and being able to freely express their thoughts."

Kvasny said she hopes to continue this research and examine whether blogs are an effective medium for medical practitioners to distribute messages about HIV/AIDS prevention and education.

Kvasny and Igwe's paper appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 28, 2017