February 8, 2013
A study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles' David Geffen School of Medicine and colleagues found that social networking sites were useful in preventing STDs among groups that were vulnerable. The researchers created health forums and found that African-American and Latino men who had sex with men (MSM) used the sites to discuss HIV-related issues like stigma, knowledge of HIV, and HIV prevention, and to request home HIV testing kits.
The researchers recruited African-American and Latino MSM through ads on social networking sites such as Facebook and My Space; through banner ads and posts on Craigslist; and through places such as bars, gyms, and community organizations in Los Angeles. Some subjects were also recruited from other population groups. A total of 112 individuals participated in the 12-week intervention and one-year follow-up; 90 percent of participants were African American or Latino and the average age was 31. The participants were randomly assigned on Facebook to a general health group or a secret HIV prevention group that could not be accessed by non-group members.
Results show that participants in the HIV prevention group had open discussions of HIV-related topics. Participants older than 31 were more likely to discuss prevention, testing, stigma, and advocacy, while younger participants were more interested in HIV knowledge. Also, participants who were interested in prevention and testing were 11 times more likely to request an HIV testing kit than those who discussed other topics.
The researchers concluded that social networking can help improve HIV and STD-related communication among African-American and Latino MSM, and suggested that the study demonstrates that social networking can be useful for collecting and analyzing data.
The study, "Online Social Networking for HIV Education and Prevention: A Mixed-Methods Analysis," was published online in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases (2012; doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0b013e318278bd12).