Duncan’s blog: Putting the social back in social media

17 August 2016

I started using social media as a New Year’s resolution a couple of years ago.  Intrigued by the chance to connect with friends, colleagues and strangers alike in a virtual forum, I found these interactions—ranging from short discussions to long debates—intellectually stimulating and even sometimes entertaining.

My enjoyment has waned of late due, in large part, to decidedly unsocial trends emerging in the larger online world. I still feel that social media is a valuable tool to engage on personal or professional matters. But it seems that, too often, social media is being used to upset, ridicule or embarrass, rather than inform or enlighten. 

In my view, it’s the immediacy that fuels the good and the bad in social media. On the one hand, you can post an idea and have it instantly validated or rejected.   You can generate new ideas from an audience as large as your followers and beyond. 

On the other, this immediacy (and imagined anonymity) also makes it too easy for any of us to behave in ways we wouldn’t dream of doing in person.  To act—or more precisely, react—without thinking.   To say things that are not only unkind and uncivil, but unprofessional.

Social media has become an integral and pervasive part of daily life for many of us.  But it can be a difficult thing to navigate successfully for professionals, who face higher expectations than non-professionals for appropriate behaviour online and off.   What’s allowed and what’s over the line?

Over the years we have been asked to produce guidance for registrants to help them navigate the choppy waters and treacherous channels of social media.  Against this backdrop, last month we released a one-page document outlining additional guidance for using social media. Our aim was to offer common-sense tips to help pharmacy professionals continue to meet our standards, and to make it clear that those standards extend to online forums and social media platforms as well as face-to-face interactions.  

We also wanted to prompt a conversation within the profession about what is considered acceptable behaviour.  And that, we certainly did.

Let me be clear—our aim is not to stifle debate or commentary or drive regulatory actions against registrants.  We welcome and encourage lively, provocative thoughts, discussions, disagreements and debates that do not descend into abuse and rancour. And, I have to think that all of us know the difference between constructive criticism and respectful disagreement, and personal attacks.  If not, think: disagree without being disagreeable and criticise the policy, not the person.

We are not the first regulator to issue guidance on social media.  Other health profession regulators, including the General Medical Council, the General Dental Council and the Nurses and Midwives Council, have all issued detailed guidance on the responsible use of social media. Professional bodies like the RPS and NPA have also issued helpful guidance on using social media effectively, which we signposted in our document as additional resources.

The guidance we have issued does not change our expectations of pharmacy professionals, as set out in our standards. Instead, it offers information and advice which registrants may find helpful in their practice. Our approach to standards and guidance is—as it has always been—grounded in the belief that pharmacy professionals do not need detailed, prescriptive guidance in order to exercise judgement and demonstrate professionalism.  

Like all health professionals, pharmacy professionals must take responsibility for upholding public confidence and maintaining the reputation of the profession online as well as offline.  We recognise that this is not always easy, and as the regulator we see our role as helping you to uphold the trust and confidence patients and the public have in you.