Craigslist is famous for letting users find just about anything they're looking for – jobs, apartments, musical gear, furniture, free junk, and sex.
It's the latter of these that led one University of Minnesota professor to link the popular website to a rise in reported HIV infections.
Jason Chan, an assistant professor of Information and Decision Sciences at the U of M's Carlson School of Management, is one of two authors of a study suggesting a 15.9 percent increase in HIV cases since Craigslist launched its personals section, according to a release from the university.
Chan told the Star Tribune the idea for the study came while working on his doctorate at New York University. He read about a "doctor who traced sexually transmitted diseases to online chatrooms" and was surprised after conducting a little research on his own.
“I went to Craigslist in New York and went through the ads. To my shock, I found out almost all the ads were hookup ads. They were very explicit,” Chan told the paper.
He and his co-researcher Anindya Ghose analyzed data from 33 U.S. states from 1999 to 2008 for their study, which suggests that Craigslist's entry into the market produces an average of over 6,000 HIV cases in the U.S. per year. Their work was published in MIS Quarterly.
Chan was quick to point out, however, that the site's originators are not to blame.
“I actually think that the creators of Craigslist had no intent of harming society. They came in with good intentions,” he said in the U of M release. He did add that they failed to anticipate some of the darker consequences of their service.
Interestingly, the study found that prostitution ads on the site had little to do with the increase in infections. The U of M says that is in line with research showing sex workers are less likely to engage in risky behaviors with their clients.