Relative Effectiveness of Social Media, Dating Apps, and Information Search Sites in Promoting HIV Self-testing: Observational Cohort Study

JMIR Form Res. 2022 Sep 23;6(9):e35648. doi: 10.2196/35648.


Background: Social media sites, dating apps, and information search sites have been used to reach individuals at high risk for HIV infection. However, it is not clear which platform is the most efficient in promoting home HIV self-testing, given that the users of various platforms may have different characteristics that impact their readiness for HIV testing.

Objective: This study aimed to compare the relative effectiveness of social media sites, dating apps, and information search sites in promoting HIV self-testing among minority men who have sex with men (MSM) at an increased risk of HIV infection. Test kit order rates were used as a proxy to evaluate promotion effectiveness. In addition, we assessed differences in characteristics between participants who ordered and did not order an HIV test kit.

Methods: Culturally appropriate advertisements were placed on popular sites of three different platforms: social media sites (Facebook, Instagram), dating apps (Grindr, Jack'D), and information search sites (Google, Bing). Advertisements targeted young (18-30 years old) and minority (Black or Latinx) MSM at risk of HIV exposure. Recruitment occurred in 2 waves, with each wave running advertisements on 1 platform of each type over the same period. Participants completed a baseline survey assessing sexual or injection use behavior, substance use including alcohol, psychological readiness to test, attitudes toward HIV testing and treatment, and HIV-related stigma. Participants received an electronic code to order a free home-based HIV self-test kit. Follow-up assessments were conducted to assess HIV self-test kit use and uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) at 14 and 60 days post enrollment.

Results: In total, 271 participants were enrolled, and 254 were included in the final analysis. Among these 254 participants, 177 (69.7%) ordered a home HIV self-test kit. Most of the self-test kits were ordered by participants enrolled from dating apps. Due to waves with low enrollment, between wave statistical comparisons were not feasible. Within wave comparison revealed that Jack'D showed higher order rates (3.29 kits/day) compared to Instagram (0.34 kits/day) and Bing (0 kits/day). There were no associations among self-test kit ordering and HIV-related stigma, perceptions about HIV testing and treatment, and mistrust of medical organizations.

Conclusions: Our findings show that using popular dating apps might be an efficient way to promote HIV self-testing. Stigma, perceptions about HIV testing and treatment, or mistrust of medical organizations may not affect order rates of HIV test kits promoted on the internet.

Trial registration: NCT04155502;

International registered report identifier (irrid): RR2-10.2196/20417.

Keywords: HIV; HIV prevention; MSM; PrEP; dating apps; digital health; health promotion; home HIV test; human immunodeficiency virus; infection; medical information; pre-exposure prophylaxis; search engines; self-testing; social media.

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