According to a new study in Management Information Systems Quarterly, the entry of online classified service Craigslist into a local market led to, on average, a 16 percent increase in the number of reported HIV cases.
“Our study results suggest that there is a new social route of HIV transmission that is taking place in this digital era,” said Jason Chan, an Assistant Professor of Information and Decision Sciences at the Carlson School of Management.
“Health care practitioners and policymakers have to look more closely at online platforms to assess how its usage may facilitate the spread of HIV and STDs across the country.”
Chan and New York University’s Anindya Ghose analyzed data from 33 states between 1999 and 2008 to determine what impact Craigslist had on the HIV rate of the communities the service arrived in. After eliminating other possible causes, they determined that the online personals — not the site’s escort service sections — were responsible for the increased in the reported number of HIV cases.
Chan said that he did not believe the owners and operators “had [any] intent of harming society. They came in with good intentions. At the same, they did not anticipate that users could use the features in an unexpected way with unintended consequences.”
The problem, he and Ghose wrote, is that “[t]he ease of seeking sex partners through classified ad sites may promote risky behaviors that increase transmission of STDs.”
Moreover, they argued that “[t]he expansive reach offered by the internet provides access to a larger social group than is generally available through offline contacts,” which allows for the creation of transmission vectors that were not possible in the pre-digital age.
“Initially, we thought that they may be for one or two U.S. sporadic locations,” Ghose told Newsweek. “But when we looked extensively we found these personal ads were ubiquitous across the USA.”
“Specifically, we found that the listing website was associated with between 6,130 and 6,455 extra infections a year throughout the country,” she added.