Joint PolyU-AIDS Concern Study Reveals the Impacts of HIV/AIDS and MSM News on Online Search Behavior

Joint PolyU-AIDS Concern Study Reveals the Impacts of HIV/AIDS and MSM News on Online Search Behavior

Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV) / Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has been increasing rapidly over the past decade in Hong Kong, with homosexual route of transmission growing at the fastest rates. Internet uses reaches majority of the population. It is now very common for people to seek health information online.

With the support of the AIDS Trust Fund, the Department of Applied Mathematics and School of Nursing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and AIDS Concern jointly conducted an infodemiological study that studies the temporal trends of online search behavior for HIV/AIDS-related information and men who have sex with men (MSM) in Hong Kong from 2004 to 2014.

This is an infodemiological study. The key methodology involves searching for HIV/AIDS or MSM related articles from two paid and two freely distributed newspapers in Hong Kong: Apple Daily, Oriental Daily, Metro Daily and AM730. We identified 5,245 articles during the 11-year study period. We downloaded time trends of relative search volumes from Google Trends on HIV/AIDS and MSM-related keywords for the same study period.

The key findings on news trends revealed that “World AIDS Day”, the MSM-related movie “Brokenback Mountain”, and “Sexual Oriented Discrimination Ordinance” were three topics that captured sudden increases in the number of news articles.

Another key finding of this study is that HIV/AIDS and MSM news trends could impact on Google Search Behavior. We showed that editorial news on HIV had a subsequent positive impact on HIV searches, similarly, editorial news on AIDS are also followed by a positive impact on AIDS searches. Both impacts peaked at two weeks after the editorial news. While news related to MSM showed a varying but mostly positive impact on MSM searches for nine weeks afterwards.

Furthermore, we analysed AIDS Concern MSM Voluntary Counselling and Testing survey data from January 2009 to March 2015. Our survey shows that more MSM reported learning about AIDS Concern’s testing service via online sources have surpassed that of offline sources since 2012. Also, they reported finding sex partners more commonly via online sources than offline sources since 2012.

Dr. Daihai He, Assistant Professor of the Department of Applied Mathematics at PolyU remarked that “HIV/AIDS and MSM-related news could trigger online searches of the same topic. Google search trends could also reveal real-time online public interests on health topics in more low cost and effective manner than questionnaire survey methods.”

This research provided preliminary evidence that local HIV/AIDS and MSM-related news could drive related online information seeking. It has important public health implications: Government, AIDS-related NGOs, and relevant stakeholders could make use of this time window after major HIV/AIDS and MSM news to implement online HIV/AIDS awareness campaign and disseminate disease-related information to maximize the impact of getting general public’s attention.


About AIDS Concern (

AIDS Concern was established in 1990 as the first non-government charity organisation committed to the service of AIDS care in Hong Kong. Our vision is to create “TRIPLE ZERO” Hong Kong, this means ZERO new infections, ZERO stigma and ZERO AIDS deaths. AIDS Concern will lead social changes by individuals, organisations and society to achieve TRIPLE ZERO, to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and eliminate stigma for people living with HIV