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January 5, 2009

Reducing At-Risk Adolescents' Display of Risk Behavior on a Social Networking Web Site: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Intervention Trial

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Section of Adolescent Medicine (Dr Moreno), Department of Pediatrics (Drs Moreno, Zimmerman, and Christakis); Departments of Epidemiology (Drs Moreno, VanderStoep, and Kurth), Communication (Drs Parks and Christakis), and Health Services (Drs Zimmerman and Christakis); School of Nursing (Dr Kurth); and Child Health Institute (Drs Moreno, VanderStoep, Zimmerman, and Christakis), University of Washington, and Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute (Drs Zimmerman and Christakis), Seattle, Washington. Dr Moreno is now with the Department of Pediatrics, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(1):35-41. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2008.502

Objective  To determine whether an online intervention reduces references to sex and substance abuse on social networking Web sites among at-risk adolescents.

Design  Randomized controlled intervention trial.

Setting  www.MySpace.com.

Participants  Self-described 18- to 20-year-olds with public MySpace profiles who met our criteria for being at risk (N = 190).

Intervention  Single physician e-mail.

Main Outcome Measures  Web profiles were evaluated for references to sex and substance use and for security settings before and 3 months after the intervention.

Results  Of 190 subjects, 58.4% were male. At baseline, 54.2% of subjects referenced sex and 85.3% referenced substance use on their social networking site profiles. The proportion of profiles in which references decreased to 0 was 13.7% in the intervention group vs 5.3% in the control group for sex (P = .05) and 26.0% vs 22% for substance use (P = .61). The proportion of profiles set to “private” at follow-up was 10.5% in the intervention group and 7.4% in the control group (P = .45). The proportion of profiles in which any of these 3 protective changes were made was 42.1% in the intervention group and 29.5% in the control group (P = .07).

Conclusions  A brief e-mail intervention using social networking sites shows promise in reducing sexual references in the online profiles of at-risk adolescents. Further study should assess how adolescents view different risk behavior disclosures to promote safe use of the Internet.