Twitter as an Identity Workshop for Filipino Men Living with HIV/AIDS


Media are integral to identity-work. Social media, in particular, afford users a virtual space in which they are able to construct, reconstruct, and manage their identities. In this regard, online environments function as an “identity workshop” (Bruckman, 1992). The purpose of this paper is to understand what makes Twitter a veritable identity workshop for Filipino men living with HIV/AIDS. Specifically, it aims to: 1) describe how Filipino men living with HIV/AIDS present themselves on Twitter; and 2) make sense of how Filipino men living with HIV/AIDS relate to their serostatus as a social identity on Twitter. Bury’s (1982) concept of chronic illness as biographical disruption, and theories of social and networked identities collectively provide the lens through which this research problem is viewed.

I zero in on this niche group of Twitter users for a host of reasons. Foremost of which is the fact that the Philippines has the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Western Pacific region. The country has seen a spike of 174% in new HIV/AIDS cases from 2010 to 2017. Meanwhile, the average number of Filipinos newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS per day has skyrocketed from two cases in 2009 to 42 in 2019 (Department of Health- Epidemiology Bureau, 2019).

Far more than just a medical issue, HIV/AIDS is a social one. What makes it a gendered disease in the Philippines is the asymmetry in the number of reported HIV/AIDS cases. Here, the male population constitutes a significant proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). As of January 2019, 98% of newly registered cases were males—majority of whom were males having sex with males (Department of Health- Epidemiology Bureau, 2019).

On top of the physical symptoms PLWHA already experience, they also find themselves burdened with multiple stigmas. There is ample literature to show that men especially find themselves debilitated after having contracted HIV/AIDS, as the disease diminishes their masculinity. According to Rintamaki (2009), while HIV/AIDS-related stigmas pose detrimental effects on PLWHA, they also pave the way toward the construction of new social identities. Investigating how PLWHA manage their social identity, in turn, illuminates how they manage HIV/AIDS-related stigmas.

Unfortunately, however, there is scant literature on how Filipino men living with HIV/AIDS construct, reconstruct, and manage their social identity after diagnosis. That these seropositive Filipino men congregate on Twitter renders this virtual space an identity workshop worthy of examination.

To this end, I draw upon a netnographic study of the Twitter list HIV Accounts Philippines, a user-curated list of more than 1600 Filipino men living with HIV/AIDS. Through digital ethnography, memo writing, visual analysis of avatars and cover photos, and textual analysis of tweets, my eventual research findings will shed light on how Twitter functions as an identity workshop for Filipino men living with HIV/AIDS. Data collection and analysis will be carried out over a two-month period from March through April 2020.