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Does Facebook Help Prevent HIV?

Does Facebook Help Prevent HIV?
Franco Bouly /Flickr

Facebook has been blamed for everything from causing narcissistic behavior to influencing teens to smoke and drink more. But UCLA has revealed that Facebook can also do some good.

In a recent study by UCLA researchers, it was found that using behavioral science methods as well as social media such as Facebook "can lead to improved health behaviors among men at risk of HIV infection."

The results aren't surprising to us...

In the L.A. Weekly cover story "Gay Happiness, the New Frontier," experts found that your closest peers are highly influential and help set the standard behaviors for one's life.

For example, if you're surrounded by people who are trying to save the world one way or another, you'll probably end up trying to save the world, too, because that's the norm you see in your everyday life.

But, if your closest peers are merely skating by, lead a hedonistic lifestyle, and use others for selfish means, you'll probably end up doing that because that's the everyday standard you see.

The UCLA study found something similar.

Researchers formed two Facebook discussion groups, in which one group specifically talked about HIV testing and prevention while the other chatted about more general health stuff, including HIV/AIDS and sexual behaviors.

In a nutshell, the HIV prevention group as a whole was much more engaged, requested more HIV home-testing kits, and more of them actually took the test than the other group.

"We have created a potential paradigm for health behavior change using new social technologies," says the study's lead investigator, Sean D. Young, an assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "We are beginning to explore this approach in other areas."

Here are the standout findings from the study:

- 95 percent of the [HIV] intervention group participants voluntarily communicated on Facebook, as did 73 percent of the [general health] controls [group].

- 44 percent (25 of 57) of the members of the intervention group requested the testing kits, compared with 20 percent (11 of 55) of the controls.

- Nine of the 57 intervention group participants took the test and mailed back the test kits to receive their results, compared with two of the 55 control group members, suggesting a greater likelihood that the approach can successfully lead one to take an HIV test.

- The intervention group members chatted and sent personal messages with much higher frequency than did the control group members.

- African-American and Latino men who have sex with men, who are at higher risk for becoming infected with HIV compared with the rest of the population, find social networks to be an acceptable platform for HIV prevention.

- African-Americans and Latinos also find home-based tests to be an acceptable HIV testing method.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow him on Twitter at @PRMcDonald.

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