Seems every day there’s a new way to connect with people on the internet. In many cases, these social networks engage, entertain, and educate us but a few studies in recent years suggest some of us may be getting too close for our health. These studies indicate a rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that are thought to be driven by social media use.

Hooking Up in Rhode Island

The Department of Health in Rhode Island recently issued a press release alerting residents of the state that STDs, including HIV/AIDS, are on the rise. In just one year, from 2013 to 2014, the state saw increases of:

  • 79% for infectious syphilis
  • 30% for gonorrhea
  • 33% for HIV infection

State officials attribute this rise in STDs, in part, to improved testing methods that identify infection that might have been missed by older diagnostic methods. An increase in high-risk behaviors is also identified as a likely cause, including “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters.”

The state saw a drop in STDs during the 1980s and 1990s as newly implemented public health programs were initiated but the current rise in cases is said to parallel use of social media platforms. State officials say the rise in STD cases is trending on a national scale.

Casual Sex and Craigslist

A 2013 study from the New York University Leonard N. Stern School of Business points the finger at Craigslist for a 15.9% increase in HIV cases in 33 US states between 1999 and 2008. The study revealed:

  • An “average of 6,130 to 6,455 cases of HIV” each year can be linked to casual sex encounters arranged via Craigslist.
  • These HIV cases were found to generate between $62 million and $65.3 million in treatment costs each year.

The researchers did not find an increase in HIV cases for sex workers using Craigslist to advertise services such as prostitution and escort services. The uptick in HIV cases is said to involve casual, non-paid sex acts only.

Gay Men Networking in New Zealand

The Christchurch (New Zealand) Sexual Health Clinic finds internet dating sites and a gay male hook-up phone app responsible for rising numbers of syphilis in the community. The app, Grindr, is a free GPS-driven networking app that alerts a user to other gay men in the vicinity. Heather Young, senior clinician at the health clinic said, “People think syphilis is an old infection that is not associated with the modern day but it is re-emerging globally.”

Ed Coughlan also sees an increase in the island nation’s “syphilis epidemic” as well as a different demographic being affected. At the Canterbury District Health Board, where he is clinical director of sexual health, Coughlan noticed an increase in cases in 2012 and younger men being affected more than in previous years. The average age for a New Zealander to contract syphilis had been 46 but dropped in 2012 to 24, although some new patients were even younger.


  1. "HEALTH Releases New Data on Infectious Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and HIV." Rhode Island Department of Health, 22 May 2015. Web. 9 June 2015.
  2. Chan, Jason, and Anindya Ghose. "Internet’s Dirty Secret: Assessing the Impact of Online Intermediaries on HIV Transmission." Social Science Research Network. New York University Leonard N. Stern School of Business, 28 May 2015. Web. 10 June 2015.
  3. Stylianou, Georgina. "Phone app link to gay syphilis epidemic." The Press, 25 Aug. 2012. Web. 9 June 2015.