Is Facebook to blame for U.K. rise in syphilis?

Director of public health in Teesside region blames social-networking sites for offering a new way to meet for casual sex, hence causing a rise in cases of the STD.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

I have studied Facebook very carefully. It is clearly to blame for the awful epidemic of misspelled words, depressing acronyms, and ugly multiples of exclamation points. It is also to blame for people's rampant exhibitionism, egotism, and divestment of all senses of decorum, decency, and privacy.

But I struggle with the notion that Facebook--or any other social network, for that matter--makes it easier for people to pass on sexually transmitted diseases.

Do I bring up the notion of STDs gratuitously? Never--and especially not in this case. For according to the United Kingdom's newspaper of the year, the Telegraph, Peter Kelly, the director of public health for the Teesside area of England, has declared that sites such as Facebook may be intimately entwined with a meteoric rise in the incidences of syphilis. He claims that his region is enduring a fourfold increase in cases of this wretched disease.

Teesside is an interesting and emotional place, at least when it comes to football (no, not the NFL kind) and beer. It is also in a U.K. area where, reportedly, Facebook is enjoying its greatest popularity.

Did they meet on Facebook? Oh, no. What might happen when they return to shore? CC Mike Baird/Flickr

This last nugget seems to be related to the public-health director's conclusion that "social-networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex." After all, he said, "several of the people [who recently contracted syphilis] had met sexual partners through these sites."

I wonder whether it's social-networking sites, or the Web at large, that makes it easier for people to make (virtual) contact with each other.

When it comes to sex, regardless of how much networking they are doing virtually, it still involves real people making real contact, perhaps fueled by real alcohol, shortly before they make real (potentially stupid) decisions that might affect their real bodies.