Sir Elton John performs two songs before holding a press conference in New York on January 24, 2018. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)
Paying tribute to Princess Diana, British singer Elton John appealed for an end to the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in a speech on Friday and called on social media platforms to do more to help.
Delivering the “Diana, Princess of Wales Lecture on HIV”, a series launched by the National AIDS Trust in Britain in memory of its late patron, the musician recalled when Diana famously shook hands with a man dying of AIDS in 1987 - a time when stigma around HIV/AIDS was widespread.
“I am used to putting pressure on pharmaceutical companies, I am used to putting pressure on governments, we have had some success with both,” said John, 71, who has his own AIDS charitable foundation.
“The pressure now needs to be applied to the tech giants – not because I think they are bad, but because they have the capacity to do so much good.”
John, who sang at Diana’s funeral in 1997, warned how some social media users were hiding behind anonymity to be prejudiced and suggested companies like Facebook or Instagram could “nudge their users in the digital world into acts of positivist and decency and kindness in the physical world”.
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“At a stroke we can reach 2 billion people in a single moment on Facebook, imagine that power turned toward compassion and love injected with real humanity,” he said. “Imagine if all that power to connect turned into billions of handshakes all over the world.”
Figures from 2016 show that around 36.7 million people around the world have HIV, according to the United Nations’ program UNAIDS.
“We have the medicine and the know how and even a large proportion of the funds needed to end this disease. What we still lack is the global heart to do so,” he said.
“The geniuses who created this (tech) industry must not hide behind its anonymity. They must use their power to help shape a new digital world that champions more humanity. How incredible if they could start with something as pernicious, as lethal, as the stigma of AIDS.”