This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

October 21, 2009

Using Social Media to Prevent Disease

Capitalizing on the growing popularity of social networking among young people, organizations dedicated to the prevention and control of disease have begun using these sites to fulfill their purposes. A brand new Facebook application was launched last week to help educate, motivate, and mobilize young people to prevent the spread of Humanpapilloma Virus (HPV). For a while now, Facebook has had a breast cancer prevention application.

Through Facebook, "Fact Check: HPV" ( encourages visitors to take an interactive, educational quiz about HPV, find additional resources, and commit to take action. But the big news is that for the first time, concerned friends can anonymously share this application with others in a trusted relationship, because they are already Facebook friends. According to Derek Hansen of the University of Maryland (UM)'s College of Information Studies, the new system creates "plausible deniability" and capitalizes on friendships to prevent disease. UM's iSchool collaborated with the Partnership for Prevention to launch this application.

The level of HPV infection among the United States sexually active population is shocking---over 80 percent carries at least one strain of this dreaded virus. In fact, a recent study conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that one in four adolescent girls between the ages of 14 and 19, or 3.2 million teen girls, is infected with at least one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases---(HPV, Chlamydia, Herpes, etc.).

Given that the use of social networking sites has quadrupled over the last four years and over 75 percent of young adults, age 18 to 24, have an online profile page, it is logical that organizations like the Partnership for Prevention would get behind this initiative.

At the same time, the CDC has been online technology and social networking for a while. In addition to providing quizzes, eCards and eGames to engage the visitor to its website, the CDC has even its own island in the virtual world of Second Life.

Expect to see social networking used to promote all kinds of agendas to this cohort of young people who are very comfortable connecting technologically.

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