The latest data from GlobalWebIndex1 shows that the average internet user in the U.S. spends approximately 6 hours each day using internet-powered devices and services – that’s roughly 1/3 of our waking lives. Two of the 6 hours is allocated to social media (SM). The adoption and diffusion of SM has increased at a rate unparalleled by any prior form of media. This is the new wired world: always connected, always communicating, always multitasking. The benefits from SM far exceed the disadvantages. While the NATA Code of Ethics establishes important external guides, ethical decisions about social media use stem from informed individuals with developed ethical thinking. Notwithstanding, younger individuals typically possess strong technology skills, however, older individuals possess experience, and are perceptive at understanding important questions, such as: When do you need to avoid responding? What impact do SM decisions have on people? What are the effects of common practices?
We can conclude this much about the ethics of SM: When we stray from truth that is based upon verifiable evidence, it is impossible to defend actions through moral reasoning. In that respect, SM are not different from other media contexts. Simply tell the truth, which is the first and foremost sound practice that should be employed. Aurelius Augustinus of Hippo (aka, Saint Augustine) stated: “The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose and it will defend itself.”
Other sound practices2,3 for protecting your online reputation are shown in the figure below. Being transparent about your identity and relationship to your employer makes your honesty - or dishonesty – readily apparent. Be judicious about protecting patient privacy, confidentiality and legal guidelines. As tempting as it can be, avoid venting about workplace frustrations or conflicts, whether they involve managers, colleagues or patients. Even harmless posts like: “TGIF: this was a horrible week at work!” can open the door for negative chatter around your workplace. Write what know on your areas of expertise and do so in first person. Do not forget to provide a disclaimer that your postings are your own and do not represent your company. The lines between public and private are frequently blurred which may lead to false perceptions. Make every effort to keep the two separate.
Do your postings add value? If your post is not helpful, thought-provoking, or builds a sense of community, then don’t post it. Remember it is your responsibility to follow terms and conditions of SM platforms, as well as HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. Be an online leader, avoiding inflammatory and sensitive topics, and if you make a mistake, admit it and be quick about it. Finally, trust your gut. Sit on it for a day or so before you post and never post when highly emotional. There is an inverse relationship between intellect and emotions. If in doubt, try to remember the last intelligent thing you said when we you very angry. To wrap up this blog, like any good relationship, a positive online reputation is determined more by how you listen than what you say.
1. https://wearesocial.com/blog/2018/01/global-digital-report-2018; accessed 5/1/18
2. Farfan JM, et al. Online medical professionalism: patient and public relationships: policy statement from the american college of physicians and the federation of state medical boards. Ann Intern Med. 2013; 158: 620-627.
3. Symplur LLC. Healthcare social media policy for physicians and staff. Symplur LLC. 2018; https://www.symplur.com/public/healthcare_ social_media_policy_for_physicians_and_staff.pdf.