Pos Or Not To Help With NYC AIDS Problem?

by AMANDA MELILLO · May 19, 2008

MTV-U, hot or notRemember when the website HotorNot.com first appeared on the Web scene, and became immediately popular with high schoolers that had the pleasure of anonymously rating people"s attractiveness in the self-esteem equivalent of a hit and run accident? The New York Times runs a story today about Hot or Not"s new mtvU-sponsored spin off, Pos or Not—in which, much like Hot or Not, you can go online and rate photographs, but instead of gaging hotness, you have to guess if those pictured are H.I.V. positive or negative.

My first response, even after reading the about how the website is meant to be used as an "activist tool" to get out the word about H.I.V. and AIDS protection while simultaneously demonstrating that you can"t tell if someone is H.I.V. positive or negative based on looks, is that it was just, well, a little bit tasteless. The idea of a bunch of cynical Internet junkies clicking away at determining judgments on the health of 21-to-30-year-olds left me feeling a little cold. But then I reconsidered. See, the City Department of Health released statistics showing that 168 teens aged 13 to 19 years old were diagnosed with HIV in 2006, up 29 percent from the 130 teens in 2004. Sure, statistics are nearly always flawed, but my snap judgment is still thinking that this is not good.

So maybe Pos or Not really COULD be used as an educational tool aimed at just the right audience—New York City teens. Clearly, either sex ed or decision making ability is failing in some way, so maybe in order to get some accurate information through to teens, you"ve got to do it in a way that appeals to them—by rating photographs online.