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Research Blog > The Role of Social Networking in Targeted HIV Prevention and Research

Posted on March 6th, 2013 by Melissa in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

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Recent data indicate that social networking sites (SNS), particularly Facebook, can serve as effective instruments for distributing HIV-related information, promoting HIV testing, and broadening research efforts. In February 2013, Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project released data on the relationship between social media usage and demographic information. According to Pew, 67% of online American adults are Facebook users, making Facebook the dominant SNS in the United States. Lagging in second place was Twitter, used by 16% of internet users. Fifteen percent of internet users use Pinterest, while 13% use Instagram and 6% use Tumblr. Since 2009, women have been significantly more likely to use SNS than men. For example, in December 2013, 71% of women were SNS users, compared to 62% of men. concludes that this data provides information about which SNS would be most effective in disseminating HIV information to communities, expanding research efforts, and engaging both old and new populations. Specifically, an organization can use the social media tool that is used most often by the target demographic in order to reach out to that population with health or study information. Overall, 83% of adults between 18-29 years of age use a SNS, highlighting the possibilities of using SNS to effectively reach out to younger HIV program populations. However, there are some limitations to using Facebook that should be taken into consideration and addressed. Specifically, 96% of Facebook users never revisit fan pages after they initially ‘like’ a page.

In November 2010, Pew examined SNS use in relation to social support, community, and political engagement. Relevant findings include the following: Internet users get more support from social ties, with Facebook users receiving the most support, and Facebook users are more likely to be politically engaged.

Young and Jaganath (2013) published a study in Sexually Transmitted Diseases, which supports Pew’s findings in an HIV information and prevention setting. In this study, Latino and African American men who have sex with men (MSM) voluntarily used peer-led HIV prevention Facebook groups to discuss HIV knowledge, stigma, and prevention and to request in-home HIV testing kits. Men were randomly assigned to either a general health Facebook group or a secret HIV-prevention Facebook group, which was not searchable or accessible by non-members. Results indicated that men in the HIV-prevention group discussed HIV-related topics and knowledge, and men who posted about prevention and testing were 11 times more likely to request an HIV testing kit than those who did not engage in these discussions. While older participants typically discussed HIV-related prevention, testing, stigma, and advocacy, younger participants focused on HIV knowledge and MSM culture. This study demonstrates how SNS can act as a wide-reaching and feasible forum in not only promoting HIV knowledge and collecting data, but also in prompting action by getting tested. Because social networking has become a dominant part of internet usage, particularly among youth and young adults, it is important to understand how to use this technology in HIV prevention efforts.


Young, S.D., & Jaganath, D. (2013). Online Social Networking for HIV Education and Prevention: A Mixed-Methods Analysis. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 40(2), 163-167.

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