The trends of social media have changed how, and how quickly, information becomes publicly known. Social media can now tell us things like where the next fashion, music, and entertainment movements will occur, along with which regions of the United States are more likely to love something that other regions will hate. One application of the information now available through social media is to map out the spread of diseases such as influenza and strands of the common cold. This application could lead to more sophisticated ways of stopping the spread of HIV, by using social media to track and possibly halt further infection.

Sean Young, at the Center for Digital Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles, published an article this past October dealing with a possible future, where social media can predict and even change biomedical outcomes. This translates into being able to chart, predict, and maybe even ebb the transmission of preventable infectious diseases, like HIV. Social media information, such as Twitter tweets and Facebook posts, which shows the recent – or eminent – drug and sexual related activities associated with the risk of infection, can be collected and cross-referenced with known information on HIV. In addition to education of what activities and what areas are at the highest risk of infection, this cross-referencing can help medical researchers find focal points to make testing more available. It can also help researchers make the availability of treatment an easier possibility for those getting tested and learning they’re HIV positive. Surveys are also showing that those who post about this topic, or who read about HIV through their online communities, are more likely to get themselves tested.

A cautionary tale for many is that the collection of this data is done the same way corporations are currently taking information in an attempt to raise profits. This type of marketing has created a major backlash from those who fear for their privacy. Sean Young has an answer to this caution: “Since people are already getting used to the fact that corporations are doing this, we should at least support public health researchers in using these same methods to try and improve our health and well-being.” He further added, “We’re already seeing increased support from patients and public health departments.” Young hopes that a more general acceptance of this type of data collection by medical researchers will follow suit. He, like many, believes that social media and other modern technologies are the key to stopping the spread of HIV in the future.