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Your ethical compass in a digital world

06 March 2018
Social media has become part of our everyday life. Dr Annalene Weston, dentolegal adviser at Dental Protection, explores some of the pitfalls for dental practitioners, as modern communication methods bring with them modern risks.

According to the 2017 Sensis Social Media Report, 79% of Australians now use social media.1  At inception, social media was essentially a passive medium, mainly used to stay in touch with friends and family. Increasingly, however, it is being used more purposefully; to stay abreast of public affairs, to promote ourselves, to advertise and to seek jobs, and as an avenue to share knowledge. But in this world of ‘fake news’ and ‘FOMO’ (‘fear of missing out’), how can we be sure that the information we are acquiring is valid?

Of equal concern is the way that many dental practitioners are choosing to interact on social media platforms. Naturally, we are all entitled to our opinion; it is the representation of this opinion that can be troubling. Some social media feeds in closed groups have become gladiatorial type contests, where opinion leaders whip their followers up into a frenzy that would leave blood on the floor if in an actual, rather than chat, room. Enthusiastic onlookers eat their popcorn from the sidelines, interjecting with well-timed quips to ensure the spar runs as full a course as possible, for maximum entertainment.  

Why is this a concern for healthcare professionals? And why does it matter? Can we not express ourselves as we wish on social media? Why should we have to hold back and censor ourselves?

If we can for the moment agree that the exchange of information on social media is best not enacted as a blood sport, let’s consider the value of these exchanges versus the potential detriment to our professional and personal reputation.

The pros
Robust communication challenges our perspective and encourages growth. The ability to exchange knowledge and explore fresh ideas and concepts can only serve to underpin this development. Forums break down the rigid geographical practice boundaries of the past, and serve to dissolve the professional isolation that has hampered so many dental practitioners over the years.

The cons
Regardless of how you may fall in standing in the eyes of your peers for involvement in a public brawl, the key detractor here is that our regulator holds a dim view of spruiking for commercial gain. And an even dimmer view of inappropriate collegiate interactions. Especially public ones.  

Screenshots from social media feeds from closed, secret and private groups often make their way to the regulator by circuitous routes, and result in the investigation of some or all of the posters. And if the codes, regulations, guidelines and standards by which we agree to abide are found to have been breached, there will be consequences.

The benefits of social media far outweigh the detriments. It is ultimately down to the individual how they choose to present themselves: but you must be prepared to reap the consequences, personally and professionally.


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