Chat room-based prevention interventions for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are being implemented to reduce the risk of HIV exposure, infection, and re-infection among men who have sex with men (MSM).
Our community-based participatory research partnership implemented a chat room-based intervention known as Cyber-Based Education and Referral/Men for Men (CyBER/M4M). We collected both quantitative and qualitative data to describe the characteristics of chat-room participants (“chatters”) and their HIV risks and prevention needs, and to document intervention delivery.
Of the 1,851 chatters who participated in the 18-month intervention, 210 completed the online assessment. The mean age was 30 years. Although the majority self-identified as gay, 25.8% self-identified as bisexual. More than half self-identified as white and one-third as black or African American. A total of 8.6% reported being HIV-positive and 14.8% reported never having been tested for HIV.
Grounded theory analysis of transcripts from chat-room instant-message discussions identified 13 thematic categories related to chatter characteristics, prevention needs, and intervention delivery. Chatters were looking for sexual partners, were not open about their orientation, lacked basic information about HIV, had questions about how to be tested, and perceived a lack of general community resources to meet their needs. Furthermore, CyBER educators had to understand and respect the online culture, build trust, and deliver well-crafted and focused messages.
Chat room-based interventions hold promise to systematically reach Internet communities of MSM, a group that is particularly at risk for infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.