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Facebook Chats Prompt At-Risk Minority Men To Get HIV Tests

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

It didn't take long for people to figure out that Facebook could be a great place to connect with other people dealing with the same health problems. But public health officials have moved cautiously, lest their efforts backfire. Do you really want to "like" STDs?But there is now evidence the social media approach can help, even when the health condition is sensitive. Facebook can play a role in persuading people at high risk of HIV/AIDS to use a home HIV test kit, a study finds.

"The high rates of request for home-based HIV testing kits suggest that pairing these kits with HIV interventions involving social networking may be a feasible and acceptable testing method among at-risk, stigmatized groups."

To reach young gay Latino and African-American men, researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine and School of Public health at the UCLA trained men in the same demographic as peer leaders, giving them information on how HIV spreads. That's a time-honored public health technique. They also created a comparison group, with peer leaders trained to share general health information.

The peer leaders then tried to communicate on Facebook with men who had volunteered to participate in a study. Because there are no best practices for using social media to communicate health information, the peer leaders had to make it up as they went along. First, they tried a friendly message and then some social chat, with messages tailored to the participants' interests. Then they invited participants to join either a closed Facebook group with information on HIV prevention, or if they were in the control group, on general health.

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