Asst. Prof. Aldo Gavril T. Lim of the Department of Science Communication (DSC) delivered a talk titled “First you lurk, then you datafy: Using Twitter insights to understand vulnerable groups” during the second session of a two-part hybrid seminar held in the College of Development Communication (CDC) Lecture Room 1 and via Zoom on 4 December 2023.

This was part of DSC’s SCICOMversation: Navigating Complexity Through Meaningful Conversations about Science, an annual seminar series featuring speakers with trailblazing work in science communication for development. It was held this year in partnership with Science Communicators Philippines Inc. (SciCommPH).

In his presentation, Asst. Prof. Lim focused on the use of lurking as a research strategy in understanding the ‘datafied world’ of Filipino men living with HIV.

He mentioned that there has been ample literature that shows how people with health conditions use X (formerly known as Twitter) to build online networks. “Because they are online, they build online networks. And because they are online they live datafied lives,” he explained.

He called X the ‘datafied world’ of Filipino men living with HIV as the users themselves leave footprints of their online activity. More importantly, he explained that these users have created networked identities on X by employing shared social identifiers associated with their HIV status.

“We can tap into their datafied world to understand their connections and at the same time, we can also study the very online spaces that they inhabit. So the question now becomes: how might we harness the vast reservoir of social media data to better understand their life world?” he said on understanding Filipino men living with HIV. 

After the presentation, three discussants from different fields shared their insights regarding the dissertation. 

Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, head of the AIDS Research Group at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, commented on X’s popularity as a social networking platform. 

“As 59% of new infections [of HIV] in the Philippines are young people, deep diving and understanding the X accounts help inform, advocate, and provide support for people living with HIV,” she stressed.  

Another discussant, Zol Brilliance Bautista, a development communication student, emphasized that “social media is a great tool for us to harness and use it for social good, and help the community discuss certain issues.” 

Atty. Melvin Calimag, Executive Director of Newsbyte PH, talked more about the uniqueness of X as a platform. “You do not have to be friends with someone on Twitter to interact with them. Unique ang platform ng Twitter [Twitter is a unique platform].” He also mentioned that journalists themselves use Twitter as a tool to gather information. 

In her closing remarks, Lyn Resurreccion of the Science Communicators Philippines Inc. (SciCommPH) praised the success of the event considering its number of attendees. She also mentioned her anticipation to see a similar forum next time. 

Meanwhile, DSC chair Dr. Elaine DC. Llarena hoped that the SCICOMversation 2023 made its participants reflect on the value and importance of communicating science to the public. She also assured the participants that DSC wilk keep the conversation going by engaging more scicom practitioners in future seminars. 

The afternoon session of the hybrid event was attended by 93 participants in total – 30 online and 63 face-to-face attendees. (Mark Jasper Alvarado, Marius Cristan Pader, and Paolo Rumbines; Photos: Marius Cristan Pader)