Background Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections worldwide. The stigma associated with HSV infection remains problematic and may lead to negative psychological sequelae and delayed care-seeking. Media technology is an innovative tool for countering stigma. Publicly-produced media content is not well-studied in this context, but may offer key lessons on successful de-stigmatising strategies.
Methods The Australian Herpes Management Forum and Novartis organised an online contest inviting the public to develop brief videos to de-stigmatise HSV. In the present study, content analysis was performed to identify de-stigmatising strategies employed in the videos. Two researchers independently coded each video and resolved discrepancies by consensus with a third coder.
Results Of 113 videos, 11 were excluded from analysis because they did not mention HSV, provided inaccurate information, or had no identifiable strategy. Five de-stigmatising strategies emerged from review of the remaining videos: normalising through familiarity, providing knowledge or fostering knowledge-seeking, expressing moral indignation, promoting disclosure, and negating a negative perception. Despite employing one or more of these strategies, many videos did not successfully de-stigmatise HSV infection. Coders perceived just over half of the videos as de-stigmatising but the remainder as stigmatising, neutral, or mixed. Most de-stigmatising videos shared two important characteristics: 1) they employed familiarity“ as a strategy and 2) they acknowledged actual negative aspects of HSV infection but offered a successful positive counterpoint. Stigmatising videos did not offer sufficiently positive counterpoints. Neutral videos were primarily informational. Mixed videos had strong stigmatising and de-stigmatising messages. One barrier to success was communicating important negative information (such as symptomatology or transmissibility of HSV) without stigmatising the disease.
Conclusions The results emphasise that de-stigmatising HSV infection is difficult. Simultaneously acknowledging negative aspects of HSV infection while providing a sufficiently strong positive counterpoint-especially by promoting familiarity-may represent a key element in developing effective media campaigns to counter HSV stigma. Future research should evaluate the hypotheses generated in this study in target audiences such as those infected with HSV and members of the public.
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