Dear Facebook Friend, Have a Condom

The world of social networking has just gotten a little bit safer.

Facebook members can now send each other e-condoms and information about safe sex courtesy of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which launched a page and application on the social network just in time for Valentine’s Day.

It is not the first time the department has tapped social media to spread its message of safe sex. It established a presence on MySpace a year ago hoping to promote the discussion on the topic. But the latest move might already be its most successful. Nearly 7,000 e-condoms had been sent within the first 24 hours of the page’s debut, and the effort was getting considerable attention in the press. As of Thursday afternoon, the page boasted more than 400 fans.

The department debuted the NYC Condom on Valentine’s Day in 2007, making it the first condom to carry the official brand of an American city. Since then more than 70 million condoms have been distributed free, and the wrapper won an International Design Excellence Award from BusinessWeek and the Industrial Designers Society of America.

The department’s Facebook page offers more than virtual contraceptives, however. Visitors to the site can learn about AIDS statistics in New York, and get information on the proper use of condoms and how to stop the spread of venereal diseases. It also provides a link to an “event”: National Condom Day, which just happens to coincide with Valentine’s Day. (The event, which is listed as taking place in “the room of your choice,” has 98 confirmed guests so far.)

“By using Facebook, we can help millions of people spread the word about condoms,” Dr. Monica Sweeney, the Health Department’s assistant commissioner for HIV prevention and control, said in a written statement. “We encourage New Yorkers to stay safe on Valentine’s Day — and everyday — by using condoms.”

The department does not seem overly concerned with the ROI of this particular initiative, however. Asked how they would measure success for the Facebook app, a spokeswoman for the department said, “We are hoping that millions of people will spread the word about condoms.”

She added that the overall NYC Condom campaign was already “a huge success, giving out more than 3 million condoms a month.”

“We’re just looking to raise awareness about the importance of condoms,” she said.

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