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WHSL Evaluating Web Sites for Health Information: Using Social Media Responsibly

A brief guide showing how to evaluate web sites used to provide health information

When are your Facebook Friends Appropriate?

Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions, and ask yourself if your social media history is appropriate to your career as a medical student:

  • Is your Facebook profile private?
  • Do you think that what you do and say on social media may have an impact on your medical career?
  • Do you think that your patients should be your Facebook friends? 
  • Do you think before you Tweet?
  • Do you post funny, but compromising, photographs of yourself or your friends on Flickr?
  • Do you post explicit videos of yourself or your friends on YouTube?
  • Should you post information on blogs or web forums about patients or their families?
  • Have you ever been a victim of cyber bullying, or been guilty of perpetuating such bullying tactics?
  • Have you ever Googled yourself? Have you ever Googled others to find out more about them?
  • Do you post on online dating forums?

Doctors and medical students have an ethical obligation to protect patient confidentiality, even on the Internet through social media, on blogs or on web forums. Medical students often have privileges and responsibilities that are different from those of students in other subject disciplines, and different and more stringent standards are expected of them in consequence. Social media can blur the boundaries between private and professional lives, and the lines between free speech and inappropriate or unprofessional behaviour are increasingly fuzzy.

In particular, medical students who post comments expressing profanity, discriminatory or racial remarks, or photographs showing illegal substance abuse or intoxication may find themselves subject to disciplinary action. Organisations are also increasingly using the web to scan for information about prospective employees. 

Consult the SAMA/BMA Guide, Using Social Media: Practical and Ethical Guide for Doctors and Medical Students  for excellent guidance on this topical but controversial issue.

The Connection between the Internet and Plagiarism

The Internet has blurred the boundaries not only between what is public and what is private, but what is "mine" and what is "yours" - in other words, what can be used freely because it is in the public domain, and what needs to be acknowledged (referenced or cited) because although it is published on the Internet or electronically, the content belongs to someone else.

Avoid plagiarism at all costs! Click on the drop down arrow on the tab Using Social Media Responsibly, or click on the link below to find more information on how to avoid plagiarism.