ABSTRACT: Harnessing Online Peer Education (HOPE): integrating C-POL and social media to train peer leaders in HIV prevention.
Novel methods, such as Internet-based interventions, are needed to combat the spread of HIV. While past initiatives have used the Internet to promote HIV prevention, the growing popularity, decreasing digital divide, and multi-functionality of social networking sites, such as Facebook, make this an ideal time to develop innovative ways to use online social networking sites to scale HIV prevention interventions among high-risk groups. The UCLA Harnessing Online Peer Education study is a longitudinal experimental study to evaluate the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary effectiveness of using social media for peer-led HIV prevention, specifically among African American and Latino Men who have Sex with Men (MSM). No curriculum currently exists to train peer leaders in delivering culturally aware HIV prevention messages using social media. Training was created that adapted the Community Popular Opinion Leader (C-POL) model, for use on social networking sites. Peer leaders are recruited who represent the target population and have experience with both social media and community outreach. The curriculum contains the following elements: discussion and role playing exercises to integrate basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS, awareness of sociocultural HIV/AIDS issues in the age of technology, and communication methods for training peer leaders in effective, interactive social media-based HIV prevention. Ethical issues related to Facebook and health interventions are integrated throughout the sessions. Training outcomes have been developed for long-term assessment of retention and efficacy. This is the first C-POL curriculum that has been adapted for use on social networking websites. Although this curriculum has been used to target African-American and Latino MSM, it has been created to allow generalization to other high-risk groups.