Reaching out Online

Reaching Out Online: Digital Literacy and the Uses of Social Media in Health Promotion

“This pilot project builds upon the Expertise and Knowledge scoping study, and develops an existing research relationship between the University of Sussex and the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), the UK’s oldest HIV prevention charity and a member of Health Promotion England (HPE), a newly formed consortium charged with delivering HIV prevention work to targeted ‘at-risk’ communities. The research speaks to some of the aims of HPE and will help to shape a key element of the intervention strategies being designed to support the health and wellbeing of gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM).

Specifically, the research examines the use of online social media tools and platforms by outreach workers during sexual health interventions targeted at gay male and MSM communities. The development of social media platforms has recently contributed to a reframing of health promotion work, particularly where at-risk communities are identified as having particular investments in online social/sexual networking practices. This project feeds into the original scoping study identified above by exploring the methods and consequences of delivering sexual health knowledge and expertise via digital platforms.”

(Mowlabocus et al. ‘Case for Support)



Read the Final Report for this study:

Mowlabocus et al. 2014, ‘Reaching Out Online: Digital Literacy and the Uses of Social Media in Health Promotion‘ . Working Papers of the Communities & Culture Network+ Vol.3 (April 2014).

Key Participants:


Dr. Sharif Mowlabocus (Principal Investigator) is a lecturer in digital media at the University of Sussex. He has published extensively in the field of digital media and gay male subculture (, 2011; Gaydar Culture, 2010; Pornification, 2009). His work has most recently touched upon issues of sexual risk, identity and politics, and the mediation of these themes through digital and visual platforms. He has collaborated with the Terrence Higgins Trust since 2009 (Porn Laid Bare). Mowlabocus has expertise in ethnographic research methods and focus group interviewing. He brings to this project a wealth of knowledge and experience regarding contemporary debates and discussions regarding social media usage within sexual subcultures.

Rohit Dasgupta (Doctoral Research Assistant) is a second year PhD student at UAL with a background in sexual health research. He has published research on the role of the Internet in HIV prevention (Digital Culture & Education, 2012) and his PhD thesis explores the use of the Internet by gay/bi/queer men in India. Dasgupta has previously worked as a research assistant on a range of projects including From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond (2012) and the Sappho Equality Resource Centre. This project dovetails with Dasgupta’s current doctoral research in terms of themes and research methods.


Craig Haslop (Postdoctoral Research Assistant) recently completed his PhD at the University of Sussex, which involved using qualitative research methods to undertake an analysis of the role of sexual identity in television audience responses. Haslop has recently published findings of this research (Torchwood Declassified, forthcoming) and brings to this project an expertise in focus group methods and qualitative data analysis.

 Justin Harbottle (Project Collaborator) is a project manager for the Terrence Higgins Trust. Based in Brighton, he has previously collaborated with Dr Mowlabocus on groundbreaking research, which is currently informing policy decisions in gay men’s sexual health services. Harbottle is the regional lead on social media intervention services and has a wealth of practice-based experience in this field. Harbottle will act as the non-HEI project collaborator on this research. He brings to this research a wealth of expertise in the fields of sexual health and online health promotion. He will act as
a liaison between the partner institutions and will have a direct role in shaping the research methods and identifying the findings. He will also be responsible for stakeholder recruitment and services buy-in.