Data show that young MSM (men who have sex with men) use the internet for instant access to large groups of MSM and to solicit sex partners, thus increasing their risk for HIV and other STIs. To date studies have used existing internet chat rooms to reach MSM with HIV risk reduction education. The proposed project will attempt to reach young black MSM (YBMSM) with implicit (rather than overt, explicit) HIV prevention and health promotion messages through construction of a web-based social networking platform. The social media site will offer HIV prevention and risk reduction education in the context of broader information that targets co- occurring problems such as low self-esteem, substance abuse and mental health issues, stigma, discrimination, violence, and economic challenges. Participation in the social networking site will be exclusive, in that members will have to be "invited" in. The exclusivity feature is designed to address the common feeling by YBMSM of a lack of privacy on open sites. The web platform will be multi-faceted, including blogs, chat rooms, discussion boards, education modules, links to other websites and social media sites, and information specific to the House Ball community, which is a unique sub-set of YBMSM. Data on the effectiveness of the website will be gathered though surveillance of the number of hits on HIV education pages, the number of links used to referral agencies such as testing sites, mental health clinics, substance abuse centers, and other web locations related to health promotion and reduction of risk for transmission or acquisition of HIV. Further, surveys will be imbedded in education modules which will measure changes in knowledge and behaviors. Survey participants will be incentivized by a point system, where points can be redeemed for money. Points can be earned by providing demographic data, participating in surveys, or reporting positive health behaviors. The study will determine whether the constructed social media site is useful for reaching the difficult to access group of YBMSM with HIV risk reduction education. In Year 1 (of 4 years), focus groups and a community advisory board will help guide the design of the social networking platform, as well as instruments to measure its effectiveness in reaching YBMSM with HIV prevention messages and fostering positive behavioral changes. In Year 2, the pilot program will be launched to reach a target population of YBMSM in the Carolinas (NC and SC), a region in the Southeastern U.S. which is disproportionately affected by HIV, with MSM composing 40% or more of new HIV infections and Blacks composing more than 65% of new diagnoses. After perfecting the site content and instrumentation, the target of the social media platform will be broadened to a Southeastern U.S. audience of YBMSM, a region with disproportionately high rates of HIV infection. Year 4 will involve continued data collection and analyses, and further refinement of the site. If the project is successful in providing HIV education to and fostering positive behavioral changes in YBMSM, funding will be sought to expand the study to a nationwide audience of YBMSM or other at-risk groups.
Young Black men who have sex with men carry a disproportionate burden of HIV/AIDS diagnoses, as well as other psychosocial health problems. An on-line social networking site will be developed that is culturally relevant to this population. The site will provide HIV prevention and risk reduction education in a novel format in an attempt to engage this hard to reach group.