Challenging HIV through social networking

December 6, 2010

Tapping into young people's use of online social networks presents health agencies with a powerful opportunity to help control the rise in HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in homeless youth in Los Angeles. According to new research1 by Sean Young from UCLA and Eric Rice from USC in the US, online social networking - and the topics discussed on these networks - have the potential to affect sexual risk behaviors. Targeting homeless youths with sexual health messages, by exploiting their use of these networks, is likely to be an effective way to reach and influence them to reduce sexual risk behaviors. The study is published online in Springer's journal AIDS and Behavior.

The rise in usage of online social networks among young people makes it easier for them to find sex partners online. Homeless youths are at higher risk of HIV than other adolescents in the US. In order to promote healthy sexual behaviors and prevent the spread of HIV and other (STIs), it is important to understand the role that online technologies play in the lives of these young people who face disproportionate risk.

A total of 201 youths, recruited at a drop-in agency serving homeless youth in Los Angeles, California, took part in the survey. The young people were asked about their use of the Internet and online social networks – including their topics of conversation online, their , their lifetime history of testing for STIs, and their knowledge about HIV and STIs.

The majority (79 percent) of participants used online social networks almost every week and they were particularly likely to use MySpace and/or Facebook. When using these networks, young people frequently talked to others about videos, drinking, drugs and parties, sex, love and relationships, being homeless, and school experiences. Almost 80 percent had previously tested for STIs.

The findings tell two stories. On the one hand, the use of online social networks for partner seeking is associated with an increase in sexual risk behaviors. On the other hand, the use of social networks is associated with increased knowledge and HIV/STI prevention behaviors among homeless youth.

Young and Rice conclude: "Our findings suggest that online social networks are popular among homeless youth, and that they can be used as a tool for interventions. As continue to increase, these networks could potentially increase sexual risk behaviors by facilitating an easy way to meet new sex partners. They could also potentially decrease homeless youths' sexual risk behaviors if the networks are used as effective sexual health communication and information portals by health researchers and agencies, to inform users about their risks and offer information on how they can protect themselves."

More information: Young SC & Rice E (2010). Online social networking technologies, HIV knowledge, and sexual risk and testing behaviors among homeless youth. AIDS and Behavior; DOI:10.1007/s10461-010-9810-0

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Scientists zoom in on AIDS virus hideout

March 15, 2017

French scientists said Wednesday they had found a way to pinpoint elusive white blood cells which provide a hideout for the AIDS virus in people taking anti-HIV drugs.

HIV hijacks common cells to spread infection

February 16, 2017

Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), together with collaborators in Europe, discovered that a common type of cell within the human reproductive and intestinal tracts ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.