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Targeted social media may help prevent HIV spread

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Feb. 25, 2013

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Facebook and other social networking technologies might be effective tools to help prevent HIV infection among at-risk groups, including black and Hispanic men who have sex with men, said a study in the February issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Researchers found that this population voluntarily used special Facebook groups, which were created by the study’s investigators, to discuss HIV knowledge and prevention as well as share information about experiences with HIV-related discrimination and stigma. Those who discussed HIV prevention with group members were significantly more likely to request at-home HIV testing kits than men who didn’t address the subject, the study said (link).

Researchers created special HIV prevention and general health groups on Facebook that could be accessed only by people in the study. They randomly assigned 112 men 18 and older who said they had sex with another man in the past year to an HIV intervention group or a control group. Participants lived in Los Angeles.

During the 12-week study, which took place between March and June 2011, peer leaders communicated with participants through Facebook chat, messages and group wall posts. Intervention group leaders communicated about HIV prevention, while leaders for the control group discussed general health behaviors such as exercise, nutrition and stress control. Members of the control group did not start HIV-related conversations, the study said.

One limitation of the study is that peer leaders initiated initial conversations about HIV, which indicates that simply inviting at-risk participants to social networking groups might not increase HIV-related communications, the authors said. The researchers encouraged health professionals to learn how to use social networking for population-focused HIV prevention.

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