Marseille 2007
Marseille 2007
Abstract book
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Abstract #595  -  Online and offline relationships, trust and social capital: preliminary findings from the e-male survey in Australia
  6.100: Posters A (Poster) on Monday   in  Chaired by
  Presenting Author:   Dr Martin Holt - University of New South Wales, Australia
  Additional Authors:  Dr Patrick Rawstorne, Prof Susan Kippax, Dr Heather Worth, Prof Michael Bittman, Dr Jennifer Wilkinson,  
Unlike other studies investigating online sex-seeking and HIV risk, the e-male project is the first to investigate the social aspects of men who have sex with mens (MSMs) online practices in relation to HIV prevention. The study has a unique focus on the social capital associated with MSMs online and offline social networks. Here we report preliminary findings from the study, focusing on a) characteristics of MSMs online and offline friendships, b) the overlap between online and offline friendships and c) levels of trust, reciprocity and reliability (social capital) associated with these relationships. The implications of our findings for online intervention efforts are discussed.
Method / Issue:
The e-male survey was conducted online between November 2006 and January 2007. The survey contained items on demographics, gay community attachment, relationships with men, HIV status, internet use, friendship and family networks, sources of support and civic participation. For this paper, we analysed frequencies and identified reliable scales to measure social capital.
Results / Comments:
503 people completed the survey, of whom 471 men met eligibility criteria (aged 18 or over, residing in Australia, reporting sex with a man in previous 5 years). Most participants were gay men residing in metropolitan areas of Australia. 75% were HIV-negative and 14% HIV-positive. 72% said they used the internet to look for male sex partners. Participants reported relationships with a broad range of friends and family members. 61% of men reported at least one online gay or bisexual male friend a friend they had never met face-to-face and with whom they only communicated online. In addition, 63% reported they had first met at least one of their offline gay or bisexual male friends through the internet. Reliable scales were constructed (alpha = 0.84-0.91) to assess the social capital associated with different groups of friends and family members. Using these scale scores, participants indicated they relied upon and trusted their female friends the most (mean 3.98), followed by offline gay and bisexual male friends (3.83), family members (3.83) and straight male friends (3.71). Online gay and bisexual male friends were the least trusted and relied upon group (2.90).
Our results show that when MSMs social capital from online and offline relationships is assessed, men report a) a broad range of relationships, including friendships that are exclusively based online, b) that it is common for offline gay or bisexual friends to have been met through the internet, and c) that online friendships are characterised by less trust, reciprocity and reliability than offline relationships. The common use of the internet by MSM for sex-seeking and socialising, and the high number of online friendships reported by MSM, reinforce the idea that it is appropriate to target HIV education and prevention activities online. However, the apparently less trusting and reciprocal nature of online friendships suggests that caution must be exercised when relying on online networks of MSM to share health information and provide mutual support. These issues require further attention and will be addressed in a future phase of the e-male study, which is ongoing.
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