Privacy is dead. Sorry. Health and social care practitioners on Facebook

Privacy is dead. Sorry. Health and social care practitioners on Facebook

 ‘I believe all is public, and professional behaviour is important. Privacy is dead. Sorry’

I recently shared five fundamental questions put to me by health and social care practitioners during a workshop on social media in mental health practice. I was struck by the extent to which participants needed to address their worries and concerns before they could grasp its positive potential.

Over fifty health and social care practitioners from across the world kindly shared their answers to those questions, thanks to Anne Marie Cunninghamwho set up an online survey and shared it with her networks. A big thank you also to everyone who took the time to respond, you can find the results here.

Below are my reflections to responses to the second question: Can a personal Facebook account be completely private? What if I post a picture of me a bit the worse for wear on a night out – isn’t that ok? Don’t I have a right to a private life?’

Here’s a summary of the key themes:

Keep it professional – the vast majority of responses suggested that it is important to keep your Facebook account professional. Some answers focused on the fact that it can be hard to maintain strict privacy settings on Facebook: ‘It is never completely private. If there is something you don’t want other people to see, don’t share it!’ Others focused more on the notion of professionalism in private as well as public life for health and social care professionals ‘we have to lead by example – it’s a way of life’and ‘It is OK to have a personal life but if you are a registered nurse how you behave matters all the time – the NMC code says ‘You must uphold the reputation of your profession at all times’ so I wouldn’t post a photograph that I thought was not upholding the reputation of the profession.’

Be yourself – a much smaller number of responses suggested that being a ‘real’ person on social media has benefits: ‘I think people are starting to look at totally sterile personal Facebook accounts with some level of suspicion – be a real person’ and: ‘I am as human as the person next to me, inside a clinical environment I am a professional and I won’t practice whilst still drunk or under influence. if a photo goes up to show that I am human and do have a life outside of the 4 walls surely that will give patients the idea that they are being treated by someone who has the ability to be human and the empathetic nature to care enough; instead of being a complete robot and a slave to the textbooks. If they have a problem for it, they can request a different doctor, they have the right to that.’

Manage your privacy settings – many respondents gave advice about managing privacy settings to keep personal accounts as private as possible: ‘limit access as much as possible but accept that not entirely private.’

A few final thoughts – the answers to this question where fairly consistent – regard Facebook as a public forum, even if you have a personal account, and use your common sense when posting. It can often be helpful to make offline parallels to help inform your behaviours online – what if you were in the local pub and your patients were enjoying a drink there too? How do my professional guidelines apply in this setting as with any other? And finally, a useful piece of advice from one respondent: ‘Use the ‘noticeboard’ test; if you wouldn’t pin the picture to a notice board at work, best keep it off FB.’

And a final note-to-self – stop posting pictures of your puppy Victoria and remember you are the only person who finds her cute and lovely and interesting.

Ps. I plan to ignore that advice… 


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