Can doctors have a private life on social media?

18-Jun-2021

Can doctors have a private life on social media? 

When and how can you share political views online?

Medical professionals are encouraged to consider that they are always a doctor, and to engage with social media with this in mind. Is this a fair expectation?

These questions are front of mind as ASMOF develops our feedback on NSW Health’s new social media policy, which amongst other goals, aims to:
  • ‘Hold employees accountable for the consequences of their private actions online which may have a bearing on their standing as an NSW Health employee.’

The draft includes principles for employee’s private use of social media. Social media is defined in the policy broadly, and includes social networking sites such as Facebook, forums and groups such as Reddit, as well as messaging platforms such as Whatsapp, iMessage and Microsoft Teams (see page 2 of the policy for the full list).


READ THE POLICY 

 

We welcome greater clarity around the use of social media for NSW Health employees, and many of the principles put forward in the Policy, such as not compromising patient privacy, are undoubtedly sound.

However we are also concerned about the growing trend to reprimand employees for their private social media use, particularly where employees are expressing valid concerns about their Government employers and the state of public health in NSW.

We should be careful that there are not so many ‘sticks’ in the form of various codes and policies, that we don’t silence legitimate criticism of health service delivery and policy, particularly from those who are best placed to convey their impacts. As doctors we have important insights to contribute to public debates, and we must be careful to avoid what former judge Paul Finns described as: ‘a “dialogue of the deaf” between those who do not know and those who will not or cannot tell.’

Advocates Anonymous

In recent years it has been confirmed that hiding your professional identity won’t protect you from adverse action by your employer. A 2019 High Court case relating to public sector employee Michaela Banerji affirmed that anonymous social media activity can get you fired.

From 2011- 2012, Banerji posted anonymous tweets that were critical of Australia's border protection policy. At this time our PM was the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, and Banerji sent a tweet to him suggesting he read the Refugee Convention.

Following an investigation by her employer, the Department of Home Affairs, Banerji was dismissed for breaching the APS Code of Conduct. Banerji challenged this in the High Court and lost. The High Court held that the APS Code was proportionate to its purpose of maintaining an apolitical public service.

 

The Community and Public Sector Union’s National Secretary Nadine Flood described Comcare v Banerji as ‘one of the most important cases on the implied freedom of political communication of recent years’ and warned of Government overreach on social media.

Like and subscribe?

The social media content you like, engage with and comment on can also find you falling foul of various other policies and codes of conduct. In the proposed NSW Health social media policy, employees are to:
  • ‘Understand that if they like, share or comment on a post, they may be endorsing the content or author’

There are many variables at play when we interact with content and this principle could have far reaching consequences.

Seeking your input

In order to inform our feedback we want to hear from members about what you think about the draft social media policy. What would make you feel more confident interacting on social media as a doctor? Do you think the principles of private use of social media (page 8) are reasonable? What are the grey areas that policy makers need to consider?

Please provide any questions or comments you have on this policy to carolinas@asmof.org.au by COB Thursday 24 June so we can compile them to include in our feedback.

 


GOOD TO KNOW

Under the NSW Industrial Relations Act 1996 it is unlawful for you to be victimised in the workplace due to your Union membership or because you have engaged ‘in a public or political activity (unless it interferes with their work).’

The Fair Work Act 2009 also protects Union members from any adverse action by their employer if you are representing or advancing the views of the Union or encouraging other employees to participate in lawful activities organised by the Union.