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Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga and Other Celebrities "Dying" for AIDS

December 6, 2010

For our World AIDS Day 2010 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- mostly those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.


This World AIDS Day, some of the most followed celebrities have sacrificed their digital lives, in one of the more interesting campaigns to raise money for HIV/AIDS, known as Digital Death. The celebrities, including Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake, will stop using online social media until US$1,000,000 is raised via Buy Life for Keep a Child Alive, singer Alicia Keys' foundation that provides HIV/AIDS treatment and services for millions of people in Africa and India.

So basically, the celebs "die" digitally and you buy their lives back by donating to Keep a Child Alive. Many of them took casket photos -- looking very glamorous, I might add -- and prepared "Last Tweet and Testament" videos explaining their personal reasons for signing off Twitter and Facebook on World AIDS Day.

Ironically, some of the celebs still sent out tweets to remind fans that they are dead.

Kim Karsashian

Kim Kardashian. Credit: Markus Klinko & Indrani, styling by GK Reid.

For example, around 7 p.m. last night, Alicia Keys tweeted, "@aliciakeys is deaddd. Watch Alicia Keys' last Tweet and Testament here -- #BUYLIFE," while Serena Williams wrote, "[Serena Williams] is digitally dead, but you can buy her life back. Text SERENA to 90999 right now and join the fight against HIV/AIDS"

While I appreciate their effort and admire the concept, it would have been nice for these same celebrities -- who have so much visibility, popularity and influence -- to focus these efforts on the domestic HIV epidemic as well. Given that their collective fan base is mostly comprised of young people (ages 13-24), a population whose HIV rates are steadily rising in the U.S., one can imagine the impact of having singer Jay Sean remind young people that they are at risk and need to get tested for HIV.

However, because this campaign is missing that component, I fear it might inadvertently perpetuate the misconception that HIV/AIDS is solely a problem for the developing world. Fans may be less likely to donate money, especially during a recession, if they think HIV is not their problem, a notion that may be supported by the low donation amount so far ($105,319 after 24 hours). That's a little disappointing given that combined, these celebrities have an estimated 30,000,000 followers around the world. So let's do the math: Looking at the total amount raised, if each person only donated the $10 minimum, that means at most only 10,532 people donated. That's a mere 0.35 percent of their followers.

Let's hope that more people start donating soon. If not, the Kardashian sisters might never tweet again ...

UPDATE 1: The donation minimum was lowered to $1 and the donation total reached $420,248 as of Dec. 6, 2 p.m.

UPDATE 2: At around 7 p.m. on Dec. 6, the campaign reached its $1,000,000 goal. However, half of the goal came from pharmaceutical billionaire and philanthropist Stewart Rahr, who brought the celebrities back to life with a $500,000 donation. According to the New York Post, a source close to the campaign said, "It's the worst mismanagement of star power I've ever seen in my life." The organization had expected to raise the $1,000,000 in a week, but after only raising about $450,000 in six days, the celebrities grew frustrated.

R&B crooner Usher, in an obvious slipup, forgot he was supposed to be dead, tweeting on Dec. 5, "Twit fam, I'm whack for being late, I need your help. Twit, Happy Birthday Rico Love!!! He is the man that wrote you 'There goes my baby.'" He continued tweeting the next day, before the goal had been met, messages unrelated to the Digital Death campaign.

Maybe it was an overestimation of the stars' social media sway or simply a lack of caring on the fans' part as to why the campaign didn't live up to expectations. I think it would have been better if Rahr had made his donation directly to the Keep a Child Alive foundation, to keep the campaign and the HIV epidemic present in people's minds. Or even better, if he had come out and encouraged the public by promising to match the $1,000,000 if they reached it on their own.

Instead, I worry that this will make people think HIV is a problem someone else will solve. If their attitude is, "Now that that's over with, we don't have to worry about it anymore," I'd say they're dead wrong.

Warren Tong is the research editor for and

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This article was provided by TheBody.

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