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emelina minero, emelina minero writes, my life, open discussion, queer identity

Understanding the Digital Age and Its Impact on Promoting HIV Prevention and Education

This was a paper I wrote for my human sexuality class. I found the topic interesting. We were asked to compare a popular article’s take on research relating to human sexuality and the actual research.

There is a generational gap in understanding developing technology and the changing modes of communication. Mainstream media still covers social networking as if it is a fad, instead of a new mode of communication that is rewiring our global culture and how we interact with others, ourselves and our environment. The popular article took this uninformed viewpoint on social networking in relation to leveraging it to promote HIV advocacy and prevention. The article discussed the potential that social media has to encourage high-risk populations to learn about HIV prevention, to get tested and to reach out for support. The article also described the internet as a new technology that needed to be understood so that it could be positively leveraged in relation to HIV prevention and education, especially because of the growth in social network usage among high-risk populations (Rivero, 2013). The article talked about social networking and the internet as if they were unknown factors in the equation of preventing HIV and STIs. Social media can be leveraged to promote HIV advocacy, education and services, and it is a technology that should be understood and leveraged to target groups of people for HIV prevention and education. The internet should not be leveraged because more at-risk populations are engaging in social networking, but rather because the world is switching to the internet as its main medium of communication, and if social networking is not utilized, then HIV organizations and researchers will not be effectively communicating with the majority of their target audience.

The scholarly literature discussed social networking in relation to analyzing people’s sexual behaviors, as well as in relation to the effectiveness of different social networking tools to spread health information and to get people to take targeted actions. One study analyzed homeless youth’s online behaviors in relation to their offline sexual behaviors. The study showed that depending on how homeless youth use the internet, it can either influence them to engage in risky sexual behaviors or safe sex practices (Young & Rice, 2011). Another study researched apps that focused on HIV prevention, education and support for Android phones and iPhones. They rated the usefulness of each app and determined that the HIV apps on the market were poor and incomplete resources (Muessig, Pike, LeGrand, & Hightow-Weidman, 2013). They concluded that HIV researchers and the medical field should align with app developers to provide relevant research and information to make the HIV apps more beneficial to users (Muessig et al., 2013).

A third study revolved around the impact that social media and an HIV advocacy and support website, Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India (SAATHII), had made in the dissemination of information relating to HIV prevention and education, specifically to gay men and transgender people in Kolkata, India. They reported that the stigma towards and the discrimination against GBT men was the largest issue getting in their way from receiving information and support (Dasgupta, 2012). The study also showed that the internet sites that people access reflect their local culture (Dasgupta, 2012). The culture of India is closeted and underground. That secrecy, shame and limited knowledge creates an offline and online culture that focuses more on secretly meeting other men for sex, as opposed to finding HIV education and prevention materials (Dasgupta, 2012). This imbalance in information helps foster an environment of high HIV infection. The study also concluded that because local cultures across the globe differ in how LGBT people are viewed that social media campaigns need to target people within specific locations, like Kolkata, India, and need to be created by people who understand that particular culture (Dasgupta, 2012).

Each study is based on understanding the relevance of social networking in relation to communicating with others and in reaching out to at-risk HIV populations. Two of the studies focused on researching the relationship between people’s offline and online behaviors so that they could better utilize social networking to promote offline safe sex practices, and the third study focused on researching how to improve existing online-based resources.

The popular article presented the scientific information about the relationship between social networking and HIV outreach poorly. It did discuss pertinent information on how Facebook groups can be effective tools in spreading information relating to HIV, in gathering information from targeted populations, in getting people to openly discuss topics relating to HIV and in getting people to make requests for HIV testing kits (Rivero, 2013). It also referenced researcher Sean Young’s belief that social media could be used to target specific populations in relation to preventing STIs, which two of the three studies supported and delved into further with their research (Rivero, 2013). But the popular article positioned Young’s research into a different context that aligned with the title and tone of the popular article, which differed from the tone and viewpoint of the scholarly literature. The mainstream article discussed social networking as if its ability and effectiveness in promoting HIV education were undecided, which is the opposite viewpoint of the scholarly literature.

Technology based from the internet is not just a trend, it is changing how we interact with everything. The lives of people, the beliefs people held and how people communicated with others shifted when we transitioned from an agricultural society to an industrial society. People’s every day interactions and beliefs shifted again when we transitioned from an industrial society to a post-industrial society, and they shifted again when we went from a post-industrial society to an informational-based society. The progression of the digital age and the ease in which we can create or access information within a global reach through social networking are changing how we communicate on a local, national and global level.

Current research shows that HIV organizations and researchers need to take a more active role in engaging social media, and they need to connect with, support and partner with the people who are creating the HIV online resources to make them more effective (Muessig et al., 2013). Also, in targeting at-risk populations, mainly LGBT populations, it is important to understand the local queer culture and how internet use varies depending on the geographical location. The internet resources that one has access to in Kolcata differ from the online resources that one has access to in San Francisco, China or Africa. The research highlighted how one’s online culture is reflective of their in-person local culture (Dasgupta, 2012). Homeless youth in Los Angeles live in a different cultural environment from gay black men in Chicago, another at-risk population for HIV (Rivero, 2013), and both inhabit a different cultural environment compared to gay men and transgender people in Kolcata. Geography, ethnicity, gender, social-economical status, sexual orientation – all of these factors contribute to one’s culture and impact how they interact with their environment, how others interact with them and the information that they have access to and naturally gravitate to on the internet. Understanding how they view themselves and how they interact with their environment is key to understanding how they will interact online and is the key to figuring out the best ways to leverage social networking to get the desired responses from them.

What all of this research is showing is that the use of internet technology is absolutely necessary for effective HIV outreach. For effective HIV outreach to occur HIV organizations and researchers need to become more active in developing the current social networking campaigns or they need to create their own. Secondly, HIV outreach campaigns would be most effective if they targeted specific populations, like gay men and transgender people in Kolcata or homeless youth in Los Angeles, and thirdly, in order to be effective in targeting specific populations, the culture of the population needs to be understood.


Dasgupta, R. (2012). Digital Media and the Internet for HIV Prevention, Capacity Building and Advocacy among Gay, Other Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM), and Transgenders: Perspectives from Kolkata, India. Digital Culture & Education, 4(1), 88-109. http://www.digitalcultureandeducation.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/theHIVe_3006.pdf

Muessig, K., Pike, E., LeGrand, S., & Hightow-Weidman, L. (2013). Mobile Phone Applications for the Care and Prevention of HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 15(1). http://www.jmir.org/2013/1/e1/

Rivero, E. (2013, February 6). Social media may prove useful in prevention of HIV, STDs, study shows – UCLA Health and Medicine News. UCLA Health System. http://www.uclahealth.org/body.cfm?id=561&action=detail&ref=2096

Young, S., & Rice, E. (2011). Online Social Networking Technologies, HIV Knowledge, and Sexual Risk and Testing Behaviors among Homeless Youth. AIDS and Behavior, 15(2), 253-260.


About emelinaminero

I'm passionate about people, community, self-love and the diversity in the human experience.


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