Professional ethics and informal social media

Last year I spoke to a big room full of occupational therapists at their annual conference and I promised to do a follow up with a smaller group over at Therapy Learning. So today I took a day’s annual leave from BCU, and went to Melton Mowbray (where the pies come from) to talk to a few occupational therapists and some physiotherapists about social media things.

The format of the day was for them to find out a bit about some tools they might like to use to help their professional practice. The most interesting stuff we did were chats about how thi sall fits into what they do. These are regulated professionals, so ethics is a big part of their job. While we were trying to unpick what a therapist should and shouldn’t do in social media, we were looking at the activity of a few therapists who actively use social media in a professional context. What we discovered was that even when people have good intentions, they can slip. Here’s an example tweet:

When hearing what I did for a living, my bank manager confessed to breaking down earlier this year. Reminded him he is one of 1 in 4…

That’s over the line. Big time. In the flow of a conversation, and the heat of the moment, it may have seemed reasonable to the author. The bank manager isn’t named at all, but really this isn’t good enough. If you know the person, and who they bank with (maybe they’ve written you a cheque, or you all live in a small town with only one bank), you’d easily know who they’re talking about. It’s a breach of trust, and an ethical fail.

We tend to think about digital footprints as being all about us: don’t put drunken photos on Facebook, don’t give out your date of birth or your mother’s maiden name. But what about the subjects of our blog posts and our tweets? Have you ever stepped over the line? Have I? I’m not so sure. I may well have done. If you have a duty of care to people, professionally, ethically, morally, take a breath and think before you post.

By Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: