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The New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute, in partnership with, held a one-day forum on social media, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections (STI) that turned out to be an unfiltered discussion of love, truth, and technology.

Why was it so smoking hot? And is this unique to conferences (or panels) about sexual health?

Maybe it was because it was a room full of public health advocates who are very comfortable talking about “unmentionables.” (How many speakers have you seen ask an audience, “We’ve all had sex in a public bathroom right?”)

Maybe it was because speaker after speaker talked about the power of small groups to make a difference:

  •‘s research showed that while the MSM (men having sex with men) population wants anonymous information, teen girls want to know who is giving advice about their birth control and STI-prevention options. So peer advisors were trained to create 90- to 180-second videos to let their own personalities shine through.
  • Harm Reduction Coalition’s videos promoting condom use in the context of  drug use brought a dose of nightclub reality to the conversation.
  • HIV CIE provides continuing medical education for physicians — including certification that can be completed and printed right from their site.
  • GMHC’s I Love My Boo is a “community-owned and operated” public-awareness campaign which created a “tapestry of love” on Facebook. They also partnered with the First Baptist Church of Crown Heights, finding that their Facebook page was a more open space for the two organizations to collaborate than the physical church might be.
  • New York State Association of Police Chiefs provides podcasts on how to handle syringes – mobile, on-demand training for police officers since every squad car has a computer now.

Maybe it was because it was held in New York, a city that does inspire people.

Maybe because the program included people like Kicesie Drew, a sex ed superstar (turn the volume down before you click through to her YouTube channel). She praised, which makes it easy to share one’s STI status, saying, “If you have information you can make better decisions”:

Maybe it was because Lee Aase made an irresistible case for the Social Media University – Global (S.M.U.G.)

I’ll let a fellow fan, Text in the City, describe his talk:

Lee Aase from the Mayo Clinic delivered an entertaining and personal presentation, telling a story of the initiation of Social Media at the Mayo Clinic. He caused ripples of laughter as he cited his 5th Grade report card as an example of how an ‘average guy’ can do what he has done. I think a slight under-sell of the amazing social media strategy they have in place. He went on to show examples of how media attention can escalate with the story of the ‘charming elderly couple’ on YouTube, again causing much hilarity within the audience…(more)

Lee’s slides (including that awesome report card):

My own presentation provided data to show, beyond a doubt, that the internet has fundamentally changed our information and communications landscape:

My message to the group was essentially this:  None of the organizations or individuals in the room can control the conversation about HIV and STIs, but they can contribute to it.

Pew Internet’s research shows that a majority of internet users still turn to a health professional with their health questions, but 1 in 5 internet users look online for someone like them to provide advice (a sneak preview of an upcoming report, which was echoed by the LoveHeals research).

There is a parallel health system online, powered by people connecting with each other, and now is the time to tap into it.

I gave the example of, which I first heard about at Health 2.0 San Francisco, noting that it was a much more elegant and informative presentation of birth control options than I ever had in my high school health class. But in the spirit of a design critique, which I’d love to see more often at health conferences, I pointed out that it’s not perfect:  when I tried to share on Facebook, no click-bait image popped up.

I talked about Pew Internet’s data on sexting, pointing out that people are using their phones to exchange sexual information — not the information this audience may want them to exchange, but the track has been laid. Who will take advantage of the intimacy and immediacy of text to stop the spread of HIV and STIs?

Mobile, social technology is changing us, changing our frame of reference so that we see information as portable, personalized, and participatory.

As I told this (and every) audience:  Take this opportunity to regroup. Tap in to our instincts to share and our ability to do so. Seed the conversation with what you know. Let your audience become your agents.


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