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Youth LEAD’s Social Media Campaign - Launch of “Our Voices”

©Youth LEAD

Injecting drug use, sex work, sexual orientation and gender identity, and condom use are some of the issues explored in “Our Voices”, a social media campaign made by young people for young people in the Asia-Pacific region.

The campaign was launched on Friday 22 February 2013 by Youth LEAD, an Asia-Pacific Network of Young Key Affected Populations (including young men who have sex with men, young transgender people, young people who inject drugs, young people living with HIV, and young people selling sex) whose mission is to become the catalyst of change and empowerment for young people who are at higher risk of HIV exposure.

A month after the launch took place, Rebecca Brown, Young Key Affected Populations Support Officer at UNESCO, met with Thaw Zin Aye, Coordinator, and Mike Nedelko, Fundraising and Campaign Officer, of Youth LEAD to discuss the impact of Our Voices and the role of social media as a tool in the HIV response.

There are so many advocacy strategies that work, and have worked previously, but there are new ways to reach young people…[and] as a youth organization we want to know the best way to reach them, the best way to simplify issues that we want to address, and consider why young people should care and support these issues,” shared Thaw Zin Aye. According to Youth LEAD, social media is an effective and practical way to educate a large audience by creating a narrative which can then be supported with accurate information to help viewers understand some of the issues around HIV.

Social media is important because youth have so many pressures, the declaration of their sexual orientation or other issue without guidance can be difficult for them, this is why there were so many people commenting on our video and asking for information,” shared Mike Nedelko.

Youth LEAD commented that they have come across programmes for youth that are designed in a way that assumes they understand the issues, but the broader youth population does not necessarily understand, or consider these issues high on their list of priorities. They believed a social media campaign that could reach young people without having to identify with a type of behavior or community would be powerful in building a network and breaking down the environment that breeds stigma and discrimination. “Through this campaign we intended to introduce people to the issues, rally support and build an audience base in the region so we have the capacity to focus this network of supporters on taking concrete action,” explained Mike Nedelko.

The impact of this campaign has been a nice surprise for Youth LEAD. While they initially aimed to receive 20,000 views, they have received over 116,000 views of the campaign on YouTube to date. This includes around 14,000 ‘likes’ of the video and 830 ‘shares’ via Facebook. The launch of the campaign also increased access to Youth LEAD’s Facebook page, from 600 to nearly 4,500 followers.

The real impact is seen through the one-on-one conversations we had with people,” shared Mike Nedelko, “we had more than 120 of these direct interactions ranging from answering simple questions on HIV, to referring people to the relevant in country Youth LEAD focal points as well as dispelling myths and providing accurate information, which is very valuable”. Many comments on the social media platform reveal a lack of basic understanding about HIV, including misconceptions about modes of transmission and how to protect oneself. Through the campaign, Youth LEAD has been mediating online discussions and providing information and referral to in-country support services.

“…for once, a guided group that [sic] exists to inform and not discriminate. I must say that makes me :)”    - comment from YouTube user

An example of this type of direct referral occurred with a young man from Indonesia who highlighted difficulties he was facing with coming out as gay, including experiences with school and his family. He asked Youth LEAD for information on support networks and other services within Indonesia, and they were able refer him to the Youth LEAD focal point in Indonesia. Thaw shared that, with the help of Youth LEAD and the availability of a network in which he felt safe and comfortable to act, he is now receiving the support that he requested.

While most feedback has been overwhelmingly positive Mike commented that some feedback had been negative but that this was expected when Youth LEAD planned to reach out to an audience as large as this.  He felt that “negative feedback can be even more valuable to the cause. It gives you the opportunity to respond with correct information. This can be very powerful if we want to change the face of HIV”. 

Youth LEAD is now considering how to mobilize the community that has identified themselves through the social media channels. The potential advocacy activities that could be achieved through this enthusiastic network are no doubt exciting for this organization, and they strongly believe that “strength through numbers can only be effective if we manage to mobilize all the supporters towards one particular goal”. 

UNESCO offered feedback and support to Youth LEAD, along with other UN partners, for the development of this campaign, and will continue to support them to address emerging issues including what appears to be critical knowledge gaps among young people.

A final word from the enthusiastic and motivated team at Youth LEAD in response to how UNESCO and other young people could continue to promote the campaign is “share it, like it, join in the conversation and don’t be afraid to respond to questions people are asking on the net”.

For more information; or to watch this video and join in Youth LEAD’s online debate, click here:


*Youth LEAD works with young people, aged 14 to 25, who are either directly affected by HIV or at high risk of HIV infection. Youth LEAD fights against discrimination and ensures young people’s human rights are respected by empowering them through education, networking, and advocacy. Through their network they are active  in 17 countries, where they work towards providing skill-based education that empowers young people to guard themselves against human rights violations, ensure their health is a responsibility they feel confident managing, and link them to our networks of peers so that their needs can be registered by multinational organisations and governments.


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