Advances in social networking offer a new route to engage YMSM. Social-media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and online dating and other mobile phone–based applications, allow us an unprecedented opportunity to reach and engage with traditionally hard-to-reach populations.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 90 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds in the U.S. use social media. Our own study of young LGBT people, primarily black and Latino, in the Bronx found nearly universal and frequent use of social media — even among the 18 percent who reported being homeless in the past several months. This led to a feasibility trial of a social media–based intervention called theSEXword. The project, whose efforts have been profiled by the New York Times, was funded by the Einstein-Montefiore Center for AIDS Research. I served as co–principal investigator on the project along with David Lounsbury, Ph.D.
The objective of theSEXword was to use social networking to reach YMSM in the Bronx. We partnered with peer leaders and a social-media marketing company to develop an intervention in which the peer leaders designed and disseminated tailored HIV-prevention messages to their large online networks of “friends.” Through this process, we reached an estimated 5,000 young MSM in the Bronx and other boroughs in New York City with tailored messages about regular HIV testing and consistent condom use. We also collected a tremendous amount of rich data that we’re analyzing for future research.
Currently we are beginning work on another social media–based intervention. EngageBx is a collaboration between Montefiore Medical Center and the Bronx Community Health Network to develop and implement a linkage-to-care outreach program for gay, bisexual and other at-risk MSM in the Bronx. This group we’re seeking to reach does not have regular primary-care providers or healthcare. We will develop an online campaign on various general social-media and MSM-specific dating platforms to reach such individuals.
To enhance the feasibility and acceptability of the program, we will be working with community members to understand and address some of the barriers that may prevent individuals from seeking care. While the intervention is in its earliest planning stages, we’re encouraged by its potential and the enthusiasm expressed by community members.