Printing the Network: AIDS Activism and Online Access in the 1980s

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HIV/AIDS activists in the 1980s made up a significant cohort of early computer network users, who used Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) to create and circulate health information amongst PWA (People living with AIDS) communities. This article explores how these early adopters extended access to new computer networks by printing online information in newsletters. Their work bridged the sharing of text files over BBS—a novel networked practice—with more traditional activist media tools familiar to readers trained in civil rights, homophile, and feminist organizing. The article focuses on the Philadelphia-based organization Critical Path, led by Kiyoshi Kuromiya, who applied systems theories drawn from Buckminster Fuller’s work to the problem of HIV/AIDS. Critical Path’s print newsletter drew on BBS to put information in the hands of a wide constituency of PWAs and their allies. They targeted, in particular, PWA communities excluded from access to medical research trials based on race, gender, drug use, or carceral status, and did so through a multimedia practice that recognized how access to emerging computer networks was similarly stratified. Through analyzing Critical Path’s digital-to-print practice, I argue that HIV/AIDS activists approached new online networks as a fundamental equity issue shaped by their broader understandings of the structural violence performed by exclusion from good, up-to-date information.
DOI: 10.1080/10304312.2018.1404670
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McKinney, Cait. 2018. “Printing the Network: AIDS Activists and Online Access in the 1980s.” Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 32(1): 7–17.
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Journal of Media and Cultural Studies
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Printing the Network: AIDS Activism and Online Access in the 1980s
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