Teens Use Facebook, YouTube to Educate Peers About Sexual Health

Web sites such as YouTube and Facebook have been used with great success to raise public awareness about a variety of issues in the past, perhaps most notably during the 2008 presidential campaigns.

Now, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) has incorporated these new media outlets into an ambitious campaign to educate teenagers about sexually transmitted infections, diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, that affect one out of four sexually active teenagers in the U.S.

Health and new media experts said the BPHC’s viral messaging approach is a step in the right direction but that it needs to be taken to the next level in order to change teenage sexual behavior.

“The underlying principle on this campaign that is different from past campaigns is that if we want to be successful, we need to be youth driven and youth appropriate,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the BPHC, particularly in terms of what venues are most likely to be sought after and seen by adolescents. “They have input into how messages are created that target them. The content is definitely not ours.”
Youth-to-Youth Internet STI Education Efforts

The youth-driven campaign, launched yesterday, utilized an interactive Facebook page where users can post anonymous health questions, YouTube video skits about STIs that also run on the cable channels MTV, BET and FX, advertisements on billboards and buses around Boston, and in-person outreach in the form of public skits performed by youth volunteers.

“In terms of today’s vehicles, you have to meet teens where they’re at,” said Tara Cousineau, a psychologist and founder of bodimojo.com, a health site for teens, citing the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and MTV as popular information disseminators. “The part that is still a challenge is how to get the messages to sink in. … You have to be passing the message along but engaging the kid in the message along the way.”

Cousineau said using interactive Web features such as quizzes that could be completed and forwarded to friends was one way to continue spreading a message.