Salon (04.01.12) - Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Leading researchers are looking at how Facebook and other
social networking sites can play a role in STD prevention.
At a recent conference, Peter Leone of the University of North
Carolina's Center for Infectious Diseases discussed how a
person's circle of friends and sex partners can be a strong
predictor of STD risk. He cited an example from a syphilis
outbreak in North Carolina: "When we looked at the networks we
could connect many of the cases to sexual encounters, and when
we asked who they hung out with, who they knew, we could
connect 80 percent of the cases."
"People think that you have to be directly connected to
someone, and I think of it as a population-level effect," said
Leone. "It would be no different from someone who goes to a
picnic and gets food poisoning. We're concerned about everyone
that was at that picnic."
According to Sean Young, a Division of Infectious Disease
researcher at the University of California (UC)-Los Angeles,
social networking sites are currently most useful as
information portals and for generating conversations about
risk and testing. This normalization and destigmatizing is
exactly the aim of the "Get Yourself Tested" campaign, which
calls on young people to get tested and check in on Foursquare
while at their local clinic.
"There is good evidence that [in terms of sexual behavior]
we're influenced by seeing what our friends are doing," said
James Fowler, professor of medical genetics at UC-San Diego
and author of "Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social
Networks and How They Shape Our Lives." But it takes "real,
deep close social contact for people to change their