By Ayodele John Alonge,
The study focused on examining the use of social media for HIV and AIDS communication among Nigerian undergraduates, specifically those in federal universities in the South-West geo-political zone of the country.
The study sought to answer four key research questions: What are the social media platforms mostly used for HIV and AIDS Communication among undergraduate students in Southwest Nigeria? What are the factors that contribute to the use or non-usage of social media for HIV and AIDS communication among undergraduate students in Southwest Nigeria? To what extent is information on HIV and AIDS shared or not shared through social media among undergraduate students in Southwest Nigeria? And to what extent is the use of HIV and AIDS Communication in social media among undergraduate students in Southwest Nigeria?
A total of 384 questionnaires were administered on the sample size at the University of Lagos, Akoka, the University of Ibadan (UI) and the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile, Ife.
Six key informant interviews and three Focus Group Discussions (FGDs comprising ten participants in each university) were also held.
Concerning social media platforms mostly used by undergraduates for HIV and AIDS Communication among undergraduate students in Southwest Nigeria, the study examined favourite social media platforms, reasons for why these platforms are favourites, usage, time spent on social media platforms and the reasons why the undergraduates use specific social media platforms.
The results show that Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are the favourite social media platforms used by undergraduates in the three universities.
Majority of the undergraduates make use of these social media platforms for two major reasons: socializing and learning. A breaking down of these two reasons reveal that the students use the platforms for chatting, sharing pictures, meeting new friends, and for academic and research purposes.
Facebook is observed to be the most favourite or preferred social media platform over others.
This is expected as Facebook has become the most popular site with millions of users. The platform, like others, allows users to upload pictures, chat with friends and loved ones, share health information and other relevant updates, and to connect with different people.
Instagram and WhatsApp are two other social media sites mostly preferred by a good number of undergraduates across the universities.
The study shows that the informative (educative) nature and ease of use are the conditions provided for the preference of these three social media sites over others.
Some of the students explained that these social media platforms are their favourites because they find them informative and easy to use. There are also some who indicated that these social media platforms keep them less bored and many of their friends use them.
At OAU, Facebook, WhatsApp and BBM were often used by students while at UNILAG, almost a similar trend was revealed where Facebook, WhatsApp and BBM were frequently used.
At UI, majority of students frequently used WhatsApp and regularly used Facebook and BBM respectively.
The undergraduates said they spend between thirty minutes and three hours daily on social media platforms and they are there mostly for chatting, sharing of pictures, sending messages and making new friends.
Also at OAU, social media platforms used for HIV and AIDS communication were YouTube, Google+ and Blogs.
Almost a similar trend was established at UNILAG where Google+, Blogs and Skype were used for HIV and AIDS communication.
At UI, MySpace, YouTube, Blogs and BBM were used for HIV and AIDS communication.
Across the three universities, findings revealed that blogs, Google+ and YouTube were commonly used for HIV and AIDs communication.
The factors contributing to use or non-use of social media platforms for HIV and AIDS communication among undergraduate students in Southwest Nigeria examined in the study revolved around awareness, power supply, network connectivity, ICT skills and technological facilities.
About a quarter of these undergraduates use it for interaction and to exchange ideas. A few of the students used social media to inform peers on HIV and AIDS and to increase their knowledge on HIV.
Meanwhile, unstable power supply interfered with use of social media for majority of the students across the three universities as these platforms cannot be accessed without power hence limiting the amount of time students could spend there.
The study also discovered that majority of the students across the three universities sometimes have limitations accessing social media due to lack of internet connectivity, unstable bandwidth creating interruptions, and high cost of bundles.
ICT skills positively contributed to social media use as demonstrated by majority of students across the three universities and the same case applies to availability of advanced technological devices.
“oF THOSE WHO SAW HIV AND AIDS INFORMATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA, MAJORITY OF THE UNDERGRADUATES DID NOT SHARE IT. ONLY A FEW DID.”
Increased availability of devices, user-friendly nature of social media apps and considerate awareness on media-health usage were the factors that positively affected the use of social media in HIV and AIDS communication. These helped to facilitate the exchange of ideas among the students, increased interaction and knowledge.
Additionally, high visibility of HIV and AIDS information was confirmed by majority of the students across the three universities.
However, only a few of them across the three universities saw HIV and AIDS information being shared often and most of them saw it being shared occasionally or rarely.
Of those who saw HIV and AIDS information on social media, majority of the undergraduates did not share it. Only a few did.
The three types of HIV and AIDS information commonly shared on social media according to students across the three universities were prevention methods, general HIV and AIDS knowledge and messages against stigma.
The study also discovered that while majority of the students were aware of HIV and AIDS discussion forums which were largely initiated by government agencies, NGOs, peer educators and universities, majority of the students across the three universities did not participate in these forums.
Only a few of those who participated did so often while majority only participated occasionally or rarely.
The lack of interest and the thinking that students already had adequate information about HIV and AIDS were mostly cited for non-participation.
The study also determined the effects of HIV and AIDS communication using social media on students’ risky sexual behaviour. This was done by establishing sexual activity history like being sexually active, condom use, new knowledge and type of HIV and AIDS information learnt from social media.
Those were examined against the HIV and AIDS incentives by use of social media such as motivation through awareness, social media encouragement to connect with others for HIV and AIDS information discussions, ability to support and share with HIV victims as well as going for HIV test.
Majority of the students across the three universities perceived social media platforms as useful and acknowledged that social media could enable HIV and AIDS information on transmission and prevention reach large audiences.
However, the study established that majority of the students who reported to have had sex in the previous three months did not use a condom.
Only a few cases of condom use could be attributed to HIV and AIDS information on social media among undergraduate students in Southwest Nigeria. This was so despite majority of the students learning new knowledge on HIV and AIDS through social media.
The results imply that HIV and AIDS communication on social media did not translate into change in risky sexual behaviour.
This new knowledge was on prevention methods, transmission of HIV and anti-retroviral therapy.
Majority of the students cited awareness created through social media as having motivated them to avoid risky sexual activities but only a few of them were motivated by the HIV and AID information from social media to connect with others for HIV and AIDS information by social media.
Curiously, social media did not give the majority of students’ the ability to support and share with those living with HIV and AIDS.
Meanwhile, the study observed no significant gender difference in the preference of social media sites. This is so as both male and female undergraduates are aware of social media sites, their importance and do make use of them for different purposes most especially the ones mentioned above.
Undergraduates within the ages of 16 and 22 years are observed to use social media platforms for sharing information, pictures and chat with friends as well as meet new friends very often. This is expected as this age bracket tends to make more use of social media platform and have fully embraced it compared to other ages.
Conclusively, based on students’ perception, the results revealed that social media platforms are useful and can enable HIV and AIDS information reach a large audience and have positive effect on HIV and AIDS reduction.
It also shows that the various discussion forums are funded and initiated by government agencies and NGOs. These forums make it possible for relevant information on HIV and AIDS regarding transmission and prevention to be shared and discussed among participants. Social media no doubt creates necessary awareness on HIV and AIDS such as the need to use a condom (s) during sexual intercourse, but the information does not have significant impact on male and female undergraduates’ decision to use condom during sexual intercourse.
“However, the study established that majority of the students who reported to have had sex in the previous three months did not use a condom. This was so despite majority of the students ACQUIRING new knowledge on HIV and AIDS through social media.”
The study recommends that the government of Nigeria should consider a policy to deal with HIV and AIDS that brings all the stakeholders and actors together to address the problem.
The government also needs to ensure that there are no disruptions in electricity supply, that the cost of data in the country is affordable, and gadgets with enhanced technological facilities are accessible and affordable.
And all these can be done through policies that promote availability of infrastructure especially electricity as well as stable bandwidth and mitigating high costs of bundles and technological devices.
The government should also have an elaborate plan on how information on HIV and AIDS is communicated not only to the youth but also to stakeholders who deal with HIV and AIDS. The government should equally have plans to ensure presence in social media platforms that are popular with the youth.
For NGOs and religious organizations involved in addressing HIV and AIDS epidemic, they also must have a policy of collaboration since they have similar goals and objectives.
Programmes run by NGOs on HIV and AIDS should have strategies to ensure that those mandated to communicate HIV and AIDS not only understand the content but also the target audience who are the youth.
For too long, universities have treated HIV and AIDS as a secondary function hence are not proactive in HIV and AIDS communication. They should prioritize HIV and AIDS in their policies as this has affected many youths who are undergraduates.
The universities should also have different strategies. For instance, there should be in place a calendar scheduling HIV and AIDS events on their campuses. This would not only engage students online but also physically to ensure more interactive communication.
Alonge, a Fellow of the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA), is of the University of Ibadan.