A recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota has found that HIV cases have dramatically increased from 1999 to 2008. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is a sexually transmitted disease, one that is often known as the precursor to AIDS. The number of HIV cases spiked to 15.9% in just under a decade, with an annual estimate of 6,000 new cases being discovered each year.
Even more shocking, is that researchers are claiming that the classifieds site Craigslist could be a potential factor in the rise of HIV cases. Craigslist is widely known as a classifieds website for more than just buying and selling items or finding employment. It once had a section for personal ads, geared towards people looking for dates, and even casual sex. While the website was once vulnerable to the possibility of sex workers advertising their services, the study claims that the rapid spreading of STD’s is mainly linked to “people not engaging in paid-for sexual services”.
The research conducted by Jason Chan of the Carlson School of Management, along with Anindya Ghose of New York University, examines the correlation between HIV cases and the Craigslist personals ads. According to Chan and Ghose, the website began in 1995 as an email directory for San Francisco technology specialists, and later transformed into a means of casual dating hookups, especially for the LGBT communities in the area. Despite the websites creators being largely unaware of the potential consequences of its services, it became a classifieds website in 1999. The website also had a section for “”erotic” and “adult” ads”, which were active on the site for 10 years. However, the platform eventually removed this section as it received “criticism […] that it was promoting prostitution and sexual trafficking.”
The study estimated that between 1999 and 2008, the rise of HIV cases within “33 US states, translate[d] into between $62 million and $65.3 million in medical treatment for those who become HIV positive.” The severity of this issue has led the researchers to believe that “there is a new social route of HIV transmission that is taking place in this digital era.”
Since becoming aware of the issues regarding their personals ads, Craigslist has banned “professional escort services” from their website. They have also placed a disclaimer in their personal ads section to alert guests that “[s]afer sex greatly reduces the risk of STD’s”, however this is not a resolution that Chan and Ghose believe will make a substantial difference in this issue. Their study clearly dictates that the rise in HIV cases was not among “paid transactions solicited […] (e.g., escort services and prostitution)”, and instead “nonmarket-related casual sex” was the substantial cause. The researchers believe that this is due to the fact that “sex workers are more aware of the risks associated with casual sexual relations and practice safer sex more consistently.”
The goal of this study was to draw awareness to the threat of STD’s that lurk in the online world. The published research acts as a warning to people visiting personals ads, and urges “health care practitioners and policymakers […] to look more closely at online platforms to assess how its usage may facilitate the spread of HIV and AIDS across the country.”