Social Media for HIV Prevention

HIV education and preventive health practices may be successfully shared via social media

(RxWiki News) Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a major public health concern. Promoting safe sex practices and encouraging HIV testing through social media may help stop the spread of HIV.

In a recent study, researchers recruited men who have sex with other men to participate in an online discussion about HIV on a social networking website. The researchers found that an open discussion forum led by a trained HIV-educator promoted education and increased HIV testing among black and Latino men.

The authors recommended public health professionals consider using social media website features to educate and engage at-risk groups about major public health concerns like HIV.

"Check out the HIV home testing kit."

Sean Young, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, led an experiment to use social media to promote HIV education and testing.

By 2010, over 750 million people around the world were using social networking websites. Through the widespread platform of social media, researchers started a casual conversation to help educate and promote health and safety practices associated with HIV and to encourage HIV testing.

For the study, researchers set up a “secret” group on Facebook, a social networking website, and recruited primarily black and Latino men who have sex with men to engage in either a 12-week conversation about HIV or a general health information group. A total of 112 men were recruited, 57 were placed in the HIV discussion group and 55 were placed in the general health information group.

The leaders of the online groups were trained in HIV prevention and education before leading the forum. Free at-home HIV testing kits were advertised for availability upon request.

Men in the HIV discussion group were not required to engage in any conversations, but voluntarily entered 485 conversations that centered on the following HIV-related topics:

  • Prevention of and testing for HIV
  • Facts about HIV
  • Social stigma associated with HIV
  • Support and assistance for people with HIV

Researchers found that the older men (those over the age of 31) were more likely to engage in conversations about prevention and testing, social stigma and support and assistance, while younger men were more likely to engage in conversations dealing with facts about HIV.

As the study went on, conversations about prevention and testing and social stigma increased. Men who engaged in conversations about prevention and testing were more likely to request free at-home HIV testing kits than men who did not engage in those conversations.

“Facebook can serve as an innovative forum to increase both HIV prevention discussions and HIV testing requests among at-risk groups,” the authors said.

“This study helps direct us toward that goal [HIV prevention] by suggesting that participants will use social media to learn about HIV prevention and that those who talk about HIV prevention over social networking groups are not just talking about it—they are acting on their words by getting an HIV test,” said Dr. Young.

The authors recommended that HIV prevention healthcare groups take advantage of social networking websites to educate and engage at-risk populations and encourage HIV testing.

This study was published in February in Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

The National Institutes of Mental Health provided funding for the study. No conflicts of interest were found.

Review Date: 
February 11, 2013