Social media campaign raises HIV awareness

Fearing that too many young African-Americans are becoming complacent about HIV, public health officials have launched a new social media effort intended to help that at-risk population learn the facts about the virus. "i know", a new social media effort of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is designed to encourage young African-American men and women aged 18–24 to talk openly and often about HIV/AIDS with their peers, partners, and families. Just by texting iknow to 44144, young people can get updates about risk, statistics, testing and treatment. People can also connect via Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools by visiting the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention site.

“i know” is the latest installment of the CDC’s five-year communication campaign, Act Against AIDS, which aims to combat complacency about the HIV crisis in the United States. The campaign – which highlights the alarming statistic that every 9½ minutes another person in United States becomes infected with HIV – features targeted messages and outreach to the populations most severely affected by HIV, beginning with African-Americans. While accounting for just 12 percent of the U.S. population, blacks represent roughly half of new HIV infections and AIDS deaths every year, according to the CDC.

I’m glad to see the CDC reach out this way for a number of reasons. First of all, and by all means feel free to disagree with me, it does seem like the wonderful medications that have made living longer with HIV possible may also have had the unintended side effect of making some people too lax about sexual safety and HIV. I remember the early 80s, when a lack of understanding of HIV and AIDS led to fear and even paranoia. I certainly don’t want to return to those days. But when I went to college in the early 90s, there simply wasn’t any question among my peers that one chose one's partners with some caution, after asking some questions, and always, always, with protection. Did that mentality help slow the spread of HIV? I don’t know, but I’ve seen too many pregnant girls this year at the high school where I teach to believe the ethos remains in place among many young people today.

Lest that last paragraph made me sound too much the old fogy, let me add here another reason I’m glad to see the CDC reach out in this fashion: it’s using social media to spread the word. That makes the targeted audience – in this case young African-Americans – partners in the effort, rather than just passive receivers of the information. That can have a powerful effect and, hopefully, act as a deterrent to high-risk behavior.

What do you think about the CDC’s “i know” launch? Will it be a useful tool to combat the spread of HIV, or just a cool new concept that will soon fade away? Share your thoughts.

Photo Credit: jonrawlinson