Social media websites have become an integral part of people’s lives, which has implications for professionalism and ethics. Sometimes, specialists forget to carefully observe ethical values when using their social media accounts and it can contribute to legal problems and even discredit representatives of some professions. This paper discusses unethical and unprofessional behaviors on social media and their meaning for professionals in the field of nursing.
Similar to many of my colleagues and friends, I am an active user of Facebook. Having analyzed my most recent Facebook activity, including comments, posts, photos, and conversations with friends, I cannot say that anything about my profile contains clear and direct evidence of unprofessional behaviors. The only ambiguous case relating to my profile that I can recollect refers to a private conversation with a friend.
Eight years ago, my older friend had to deal with a difficult patient, and she was so furious that she messaged me about the situation using some pejorative terms relating to the person. I was not a practicing nurse at the time, and I just reacted to it as if it was a joke instead of asking the friend to avoid such discussions. Some people would probably regard my “silent agreement” as an example of inappropriate and unethical behaviors.
Nursing professionals face a responsibility to observe the professional and ethical standards both at work and in personal life. It is because patients that need nursing care are vulnerable since sensitive and private information about their health concerns becomes accessible to people whom they do not know well. The approved codes of conduct for nurses are aimed at managing this imbalance of power and promoting nurses’ behaviors that contribute to the establishment of mutual trust between care professionals and patients (Dubree et al., 2017). Outside of normal working hours, nurses remain the representatives of their healthcare institutions and should still try to make a creditable showing, or they would place an entire organization’s reputation in jeopardy.
Healthcare professionals’ conduct can be inappropriate in different ways. First, it may involve violations of HIPAA privacy protections for patients. To compromise healthcare clients’ privacy, it is not even necessary to mention specific patients’ names in social media discussions. For instance, after caring for an alleged killer in a hospital, one nurse posted that she had met “face-to-face with evil” (O’Connor, Schmidt, & Drouin, 2016, p. 206).
The nurse was fired for violating HIPAA even though the post did not contain any details helping to identify the case. More explicit examples of HIPAA violations would be posting photos of patients’ faces or specific body marks, such as tattoos, without patients’ consent or discussing specific services provided to specific clients. Unethical or unprofessional behaviors on social media may also take different forms, such as complaining about workloads or patients in general or talking about some population groups in a disrespectful way.
My online activity demonstrates the recognition of human value and dignity in many ways, but I would still need to improve when it comes to promoting ethical values among others. When online, I avoid making evaluative judgments relating to religious, ethnic, or social groups since I work with extremely diverse populations as a nurse and would not want to offend anyone. Also, I never post or repost materials by groups or individuals that support controversial movements or make attempts to rationalize racism, sexism, or other forms of prejudice. At the same time, I realize that I may need to take a proactive stance to discourage friends from making unethical comments to prevent cases similar to the one described above.
Based on the analysis of my Facebook activity, my social media behaviors are consistent with both Christian values and professional standards. I have heard a lot about social media scandals involving nursing and medical professionals’ inappropriate workplace photos. This knowledge encourages me to think twice before writing or posting something that might be seen by my colleagues or patients.
Dubree, M., Kapu, A., Terrell, M., Pichert, J., Cooper, W., & Hickson, G. (2017). Nurses’ essential role in supporting professionalism. American Nurse Today, 12(4), 6-8.
O’Connor, K. W., Schmidt, G. B., & Drouin, M. (2016). Helping workers understand and follow social media policies. Business Horizons, 59(2), 205-211.