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Previously submitted to: JMIR Public Health and Surveillance (no longer under consideration since Sep 20, 2019)

Date Submitted: Jul 12, 2019
Open Peer Review Period: Jul 15, 2019 - Jul 29, 2019
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Am I At Risk of HIV? Demographic Profiles of Faces in HIV Awareness Posts on Instagram

  • Alicia L Nobles; 
  • Eric C Leas; 
  • Seth Noar; 
  • Mark Dredze; 
  • Carl A Latkin; 
  • Steffanie A. Strathdee; 
  • John W Ayers; 



Instagram, a photo- and video-sharing social networking site, is a popular platform for sharing self-described health- and wellness-related content that is searchable by hashtags. People’s perceptions of health risks may be affected by what they view on social media. As a result, it is important to understand how content promoting HIV prevention and treatment on Instagram is establishing norms about risk and prevention.


The objective of this study is to examine what social norm messages are potentially conveyed about who is at risk and engaged in protective behaviors when HIV-related images are shared on Instagram.


We analyzed public Instagram (January 2017 through July 2018) posts that contained the hashtag “#HIV”. The demographic profile for faces shown in these images was ascertained using automated image recognition and contrasted against known profiles for new HIV diagnoses.


We discovered 26,766 Instagram posts containing #HIV authored in English. These included 10,036 (37.5%) images with a detectable human face, showing a total of 18,227 faces (mean = 1.8, standard deviation [SD] = 1.7). Faces skewed older (47% vs. 11% were 35-39 years old), more female (41% vs. 19%) and more white (43% vs. 26%) than new HIV diagnoses, with similar results among posts mentioning pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Racial groups that represent a large proportion of new HIV infections, including African Americans (31% vs 44%) and Hispanics (13% vs 25%), were underrepresented.


This contrast reveals how norm setting on Instagram does not reflect the demographic profile of the at-risk community leading social media users to potentially misjudge their own HIV risk.


Please cite as:

Nobles AL, Leas EC, Noar S, Dredze M, Latkin CA, Strathdee SA, Ayers JW

Am I At Risk of HIV? Demographic Profiles of Faces in HIV Awareness Posts on Instagram

JMIR Preprints. 12/07/2019:15479

DOI: 10.2196/preprints.15479


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