“Protect general practice” groups had 5,000 members from diverse clinical and non-clinical backgrounds, including some of the few specialist registrars making use of the technology.
In a quick survey, 36 regional groups of trainee general practitioners were found, and these are often open to all to observe, interact with, and market to.
There are no prizes for guessing that the default situation is to share information with users and advertisers alike.
Aside from the risk of identity theft (two in five Facebook profiles reveal information that can be used to set up bank accounts and so on), it is the professional implications that are of greatest concern to the medical community.
This may have been a conscious decision in some cases, but more likely it reflects a widespread ignorance of the enhanced privacy settings that are available.
This is hardly surprising, given that website providers, in their efforts to reassure nervous users, have produced a multitude of confusing options.
It is no doubt here to stay, but it doesn’t have to be a minefield of ethics or mistrust.
With a little care and attention (Box 2), online social networking has the potential to make life a good deal easier for medics: to connect us with our friends and colleagues, facilitate learning and communication, arrange events, and share our knowledge with the wider world.
A senior tutor at the University of Cambridge admitted to viewing applicants’ Facebook profiles out of curiosity during the admission process.
In extreme cases such images could lead to a complaint being made.” The fact is that doctors and would be doctors are held to higher standards of personal conduct than other groups in society.
Saintly behaviour is neither demanded nor expected, but with the job there comes an expectation of a reasonable level of common sense and decency.
“The cost to a person’s future can be high if something undesirable is found by the increasing number of education institutions and employers using the internet as a tool to vet potential students or employees,” says David Smith, for the Information Commissioner’s Office, in relation to recent UK governmental guidance on online social networking.
To some extent the medical regulators are playing catch-up with the advances in social networking, but guidance is available and it’s well worth observing in your online activities.