Health promoters are now targeting gay men through social networking sites with the launch of a frank new online video campaign, Queer as F**K, weaving safe-sex messages into a fictional 10-episode film series.

The project — developed by the Burnet Institute, Melbourne University, the Victorian AIDS Council and X:MACHINE Productions — focuses on three main characters and aims to entertain and encourage gay men to talk about sexual health by following the fortnightly storyline.

Melbourne University Department of Information Systems researcher Dr Shanton Chang told Southern Star he believes
Queer as F**k is the first interactive online health promotion campaign of its kind in Australia.

“[Health promoters] have used traditional [media] formats in the past to get the message out and even when they’ve used social networking and Web 2.0 technology it tends to be information dumping. There’s no interaction. Podcasts or videos are posted in a didactic manner.”

The Queer as F**k story centres around a group of young men in inner-city Melbourne in fly-on-the-wall documentary style. Characters discuss their lives, past loves, regrets, coming out, drug use and unsafe sex with little detail spared.

A Facebook page has been set up where the characters go online to discuss the issues in their (fictional) lives. Web users can interact, join the discussion or simply read the comments posted.

The Queer as F**K Facebook page has so far attracted over 600 members.

Chang said the way information can spread on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter means the internet can be a powerful tool for health promotion.

“People do consume information quite differently online. For example, someone won’t stand in front of a billboard staring at a half-naked man with a safe-sex message, but they will perhaps download in their own private space an image of a half-naked man with a safe-sex message on it.

“The [Facebook page] allows people to interact with the message without necessarily having to comment or respond, but they will be reading. It’s almost like infotainment and it could be the start of a new way of pushing out health messages.”

Burnet Institute HIV/STI Research Group head, Dr Mark Stoové said social networking sites are also key in targeting younger men with a safe-sex message.

“We know that HIV infection rates are on the rise among younger gay men in Victoria and this is where that audience is.

“If you want to reach younger people, you need to get into their spaces.”

The 10 episodes will appear on YouTube and be uploaded to the Queer as F**K Facebook site every two weeks.

info: To follow the story, visit www.facebook.com/QAFxxk or www.youtube.com/queerasfxxk

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