Florida: Internet Underused in Getting Word Out About HIV/AIDS

Social networking sites on the Internet offer myriad opportunities for people to connect for friendship and for sexual encounters. Men who have sex with men (MSM) are increasingly meeting online -- posing a challenge to HIV/AIDS outreach workers accustomed to presenting prevention messages in person.

Though it has not previously had a significant social networking presence, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) is now preparing guidelines to help its workers push prevention via these new media. Tom Liberti, chief of the Florida Bureau of HIV/AIDS, said the effort should launch in March.

In preparation, DOH has been working with groups, such as Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan, that are already using social networking sites to reach those at risk. "We go to male-based adult sites where men go to look for sex," said Johnnie Hurst, a THAP program manager. The group also continues to operate in its more traditional mode, with outreach workers passing out condoms in clubs with MSM clientele.

Locally, Keith Boyd, an HIV specialist with the Polk County Health Department, is optimistic about the approach and looks forward to receiving the DOH's guidance on using it.