As we approach the second anniversary of the first pandemic lockdown in the UK, we can reflect on two years of frustration, confusion, anger and relief at how the pandemic has shaped our communities and how we are starting to emerge.
For many of us, our use of social media has heightened as our 'in-person' interactions have become harder to do. And many of the comments that we make online are, inevitably, related to the pandemic and health. But how often do you really think hard about the comments that you make online before you make them? And do you fully appreciate the implications of expressing your views, particularly if you work in the health and social care sectors, which are heavily regulated by bodies such as the SSSC, the NMC, the GMC or the HCPC.
Even pre-pandemic, maintaining public confidence in a particular profession, and ensuring that high standards were met by those practising in those fields was considered to be of utmost importance. Given the increasing likelihood of people to believe all that they read online, anything that creates anxiety and fear could spark a public safety concern. This is all the more likely if those anxieties and fears are being generated by 'someone in the know'. If comments that you make online might undermine public confidence, then your regulator may consider whether your fitness to practise is impaired.
As a result, for those regulated professionals such as doctors, nurses or people working in the care sector, caution should be taken against expressing any frustrations about work or those using their services, even if this is in a general sense. Likewise, think twice about posting any content that could be interpreted as offensive or discriminatory, even if this is outside work and even if the views shared do not impact on an individual's particular expertise or competence. Regulators may impose sanctions up to and including striking you off their register and, separately, employers may take disciplinary action.
So, if you work in a regulated sector, what are the golden rules when posting content on social media?
- Look at your regulator's published guidance. These set out the standards expected of registrants who use social media.
- Regularly check your privacy settings on every site you use to make sure that there haven't been any automatic changes which you have overlooked.
- Consider your audience. Who "follows" you on this particular platform, and are many of them colleagues and service users?
- Being careful about 2 and 3 above are no guarantee. Remember that, even if something can only be seen by your "friends" or "followers", how friendly might those people be towards you if you say something that they find offensive. And if they screenshot your comments, they can be shared anywhere and still be attributed to you. When it comes to social media, nothing is truly "private".
- Remember that even posts or comments in a personal capacity outside work could cause an issue if those views might undermine confidence in the profession.
If you find yourself facing disciplinary proceedings brought by your regulator or your employer, we recommend that you seek specialist advice at an early stage. We have a team of experienced lawyers who can guide you through the process, assist you to represent yourself, or conduct the hearing on your behalf.
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