Social Media Policies Can Help


November 22, 2011

There have been several recent cases involving Facebook that have been released. These cases continue to show how social media has permeated our society. They also show a darker side of social media. Although not directly related to the health care world, I think that they provide some useful lessons. But first the cases…
Several weeks ago a Connecticut judge ordered a couple in the midst of a divorce an exchange of passwords for Facebook and dating websites. The husband’s lawyer argued, that postings by the wife, were evidence of her inability to take care of the couple’s children. The husband was arguing for full custody. The court agreed that this might produce irrelevant information in order for the wife to disclose Facebook and dating website passwords. The court agreed it might provide irrelevant information and ordered that the husband and wife exchange Facebook and dating website passwords. Finally the court went on to order that neither spouse may post messages pretending to be the other.
If you think that the Connecticut judge’s order for the parties to not post messages was unnecessary, then hold on tight. In New Jersey, a woman was charged for creating a fake Facebook profile of her ex-boyfriend. As the ex-boyfriend is a narcotics detective, this woman posted such comments as “I am a sick piece of scum with a gun”. It gets worse. She posted in her ex-boyfriends name that he had herpes, frequented prostitutes, and was high all of the time. In New Jersey, a judge found that such behavior could constitute identity theft and the prosecution could go forward with her case against this woman.
So what possible relevance could these have to health care providers? It provides several lessons. At first, there are some not so nice things that happen out on the web. This is one reason why all practices need to have a social media policy for employees. The last thing any practice needs is an employee using its computer systems inappropriately. The cases also point to the general feeling of anonymity and privacy that many individuals have when using social media and the internet. It is these feelings that allow for ex-spouses, ex-employees, and/or competitors to comment on physician rating sites. By understanding these risks in the cyber world, you can begin to develop strategies to protect yourself and your practice.