Facebook: open or closed?

I’m a member of a great Facebook group for radiographers. It boasts 4,224 members from around the world: a pretty impressive number. Many of my own clinical and academic colleagues and students are on there. The content is varied and can be very funny. Posts are rife with that radiographer black humour we used to share whilst standing around the processor; those 3 minute snatches of conversation afforded to us in the film processor days of the 80’s (showing my age now). With the advent of CR and, worse still DR, instantaneous imaging has resulted radiographers having to resort to on-line spaces to gossip. This Facebook group therefore fulfils all those desired qualities of an on-line community that Social Media purports to do.

Peachy… but there is a problem; it’s a ‘closed’ group. ‘Closed’ might suggest that any topic is ripe for discussion, and that posts will never be seen outside the site. But a closed Facebook site such as this lulls us into a false sense of security with the promise of privacy and security. Unfortunately this is not the case, ‘on-line’ is not a substitute space for the processing room.

No on-line spaces are private or closed because they comprise written text and any written forms of communication are vulnerable to exposure be they letter, email or ‘closed’ Facebook group posts. Just by example, I have previously had to investigate a screenshot of a student’s unprofessional posts, on a supposed ‘private’ Facebook site, sent through the mail by an anonymous person. This must have been sent by another member of same group. So it is quite easy for someone to print off or even share a post on their own page, in innocence or with malicious intent, and it thus becomes public. We should therefore always have this at the front of our minds and only ever write/type anything we would be happy to voice in a public space.

On the radiography Facebook group however, there is the (very) occasional post which misses this point, the content being less than professional; including derogatory comments about patients or other health professionals. These posts are disappointing. I worry, not only for the author, but also the rest of the community. How should we react to these posts? Options are ‘a) ‘like it’ – it might be funny; b) ignore it; c) comment on its inappropriateness; d) report it!

Here’s the concern. The HCPC Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics Standard 13 states

“You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession. You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession1

HCPC standards

Having made the case that all posts are essentially public, it is clear that the author of any (very occasional) unprofessional post is breaching standard 13 (assuming they are UK radiographers – radiographers from other countries please look to your own professional standards and codes) – fools! However, if we ignore these posts or, worse still ‘like’ them are we not similarly guilty by association? The Society of Radiographers (sorry again non-UK readers) has produced a new document on raising concerns about unprofessional behaviour2 and there is a clear statement that we have a professional duty to raise concerns about unprofessional behaviour. Sure, a radiographer offloading their frustrations after a bad day on a ‘closed’ website is small fry compared to the physical abuse or neglect of a patient but it still constitutes a breach of the standards.

So here’s my advice:

  • Remember NO site is truly closed so think carefully before you post anything but…
  • …don’t be put of using Social Media for building professional communities – they are a great source of support and networking
  • State clearly if you disapprove of any posts within a community in which you are a member, this offers guidance to the author who may be unaware of these issues as well as protecting yourself
  • And my favourite recommendation – radical now…consider an ‘open’ site where members of the public (yes patients!) can also join in the conversation. Engage them in thought-provoking conversations; find out from them why the feel so disorientated that they put their feet on the pillow, instead of sniggering about it behind their backs. Social Media used this way becomes a powerful tool to help understand the patients’ perspective, share ideas with them and provide a more patient-centred service.
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2 thoughts on “Facebook: open or closed?”

  1. Great points! The FB group “World Wide Radiation Therapist” recently went “closed” for similar reasons. It’s a great site for sharing ideas but a few “what’s the grossest thing you’ve ever seen” posts were too close to the edge for sure. We all use black humour but there’s a time and place!

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