With an eye toward keeping guys healthy as they look for Mr. Right (or Mr. Right Now), partnership brings together apps & public health
Building Healthy Online Communities (BHOC), a coalition of San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other leading HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention organizations, recently launched a new website with the goal of improving the health and experience of gay men on hookup apps like Grindr, Scruff, Adam4Adam, Growlr and Daddyhunt.
BHOC works to improve and streamline interactions between hookup apps and public health. Dating and hookup app owners have expressed interest in partnering with public health experts to support their users’ health. HIV and STI prevention leaders are attracted to the reach that dating sites have, and the ways they can help gay men communicate with each other.
“It’s a win-win relationship,” said Dan Wohlfeiler, BHOC’s director. “If app owners and public health can work together to create environments where app users can get good sexual health information and make informed decisions about their sexual health, everyone benefits. We also want men to have medically accurate, user-friendly information. And we want to do that by meeting people where they are.”
Wohlfeiler and Hecht both got their Master’s degrees in public health at University of California Berkeley and served as education directors of the STOP AIDS Project at different times. They’ve brought their scientific and grassroots experience to their work with apps. Seven years ago, they recognized the need for better collaboration when they realized that public health experts were “throwing the kitchen sink” at app and website owners, with different agencies making different requests.
“App and website owners didn’t know which requests to accommodate, and which strategies made sense,” said Hecht. “Many expressed feeling overwhelmed by the number of inquiries they were receiving from different health departments. Additionally, community organizations and health departments didn’t have an easy way to share information about which interventions and ad campaigns were successful, or how to implement different HIV and STI prevention messaging or campaigns on apps.”
The newly-launched BHOC website (www.bhocpartners.org) offers HIV and STI educators tips and information on how to reach app users with good sexual health information. This includes best practices on how to buy ads online and design an outreach worker profile appropriate for an app. The BHOC website also contains links and information about existing ad campaigns (e.g., Harlem United’s “Swallow this” PrEP campaign and the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s “Our Sexual Revolution” campaign) which have been launched on dating apps and online sites.
“This website offers public health people a way to share information and coordinate our efforts. The more coordinated we are, the better scale we have and the more efficient we are,” said Hecht.
For app owners, the site offers information on how to create an online environment that supports the health of its users and decreases HIV stigma. This can include adding articles and blogs on sexual health content and creating options for users to specify their sexual health strategies in their profile.
“Years ago, some sites would have a profile option about ‘safe sex’ and people selected ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to answer the question,” said Wohlfeiler. “That usually meant whether they were open to using condoms. In 2017, for some guys “safe sex” means condoms, to others, PrEP. For people who are living with HIV, it may mean having an undetectable viral load. So we have encouraged apps to give guys the option to specify condoms, PrEP and treatment as prevention as safe sex options, and we’re really pleased to see that they’ve implemented our recommendations.”
The BHOC team recently partnered with the dating site Daddyhunt to produce a series of web videos and public service announcements featuring storylines about PrEP, STIs and HIV treatment. The series won “Best LGBTQ Film” at the Top Shorts Online Film Festival 2017. The PSAs, featuring the cast of the series, encourage viewers to make the choice of HIV and STI prevention options that is right for them. In the first weeks, the series and PSAs have received more than a million views.