HIV Prevention and Sex Behaviors as Organizing Mechanisms in a Facebook Group Affiliation Network Among Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men

Abstract

Online social networking sites (SNS)—the Internet-based platforms that enable connection and communication between users—are increasingly salient social environments for young adults and, consequently, offer tremendous opportunity for HIV behavioral research and intervention among vulnerable populations like young men who have sex with men (YMSM). Drawing from a cohort of 525 young Black MSM (YBMSM) living in Chicago, IL, USA April 2014–May 2015, we conducted social network analysis, estimating an exponential random graph model (ERGM) to model YBMSM’s group affiliations on Facebook in relation to their sex behaviors and HIV prevention traits. A group’s privacy setting—public, closed, or secret—was also modeled as a potential moderator of that relationship. Findings reveal that HIV positive individuals were more likely to affiliate with Facebook groups, while those who engaged in group sex were less likely to do so. When it came to the privacy of groups, we learned that HIV positive individuals tended not to belong to groups with greater privacy (e.g., closed and secret groups), while individuals who engaged in group sex and those who engaged in regular HIV testing were more likely to belong to those groups. Results also showed that individuals who engaged in condomless sex showed significant signs of clustering around the same set of groups. HIV positive individuals, on the other hand, were significantly less likely to demonstrate clustering. Implications for interventions and future research are discussed.

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