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We’re all accustomed to using social media. Scrolling through Twitter first thing in the morning, posting something motivational to your Instagram story, or even wishing a close friend/family member a happy birthday with a #throwback post. It is evident that social media plays a major role in connecting us with our loved ones and allowing us to de-stress after a long, exhausting day. We’re used to tweeting about loud neighbours, that cute barista who made your latte extra foamy, and every significant thing that goes on in our day-to-day lives. But what’s the limit? Picture this: you’re in the hospital visiting your aunt who has just had a baby, or your grandfather during a physiotherapy session. You come across a cute baby while passing by the NICU, and decide to upload a snap of said cute baby. Is this unethical? 


The answer is yes! You are violating several ethical laws. You need consent. The patient needs to consent to use pictures of their body and face for social media. You can be sued and if you’re planning on pursuing a career in healthcare, you will lose the trust of your colleagues. Would you feel comfortable if your friend uploads a snap of you without your permission? Most of us wouldn’t, so what are you getting out of these social media likes? If the family of the child finds out you’re using their son/daughter’s pictures to grab the attention of your friends, they will be very upset by this. Even if you get away with it, you will become accustomed to snapping a picture of future patients, along with other people in vulnerable positions (if you’re not planning on going into healthcare). 


In the United States, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) ensures that patient information is always kept confidential and that patients feel secure. This is in-line with the principle of beneficence which means that you are supposed to ensure that you provide patients with the best and optimal care, along with respecting their needs. Can a baby consent to having their picture taken? No! Did you ask their parents? Even then, you would have signed a media release form and those pictures would then be uploaded to the hospital’s website or social media page. You are not allowed to post pictures on your personal social media pages. The patient would also need to clearly understand the risks of posting their picture to social media, and what this actually entails. This would clearly be communicated in a two-way dialogue to prevent lawsuits and misunderstanding. 


Here’s another situation: you are conducting research at your school’s biology classroom. You are dissecting a frog. Is it ethical to post a picture of the frog? Can you post a picture of a rodent with it’s liver protruding outside of its abdomen to show your friends that you might be the future Derek Shepherd from Grey’s Anatomy? Absolutely not! This is also unethical! The animal should be treated with respect, euthanized after the procedure, and its respect should also NOT be violated. This is also going against the Canadian Council on Animal Care’s policy and can result in lawsuits.


For more information about an actual case about social media in medicine check out this article in a scientific journal. 


Although you might not be directly involved in these practices, you might still encounter issues like this even in our day to day lives, for instance, when encountering a rude customer you might be tempted to snap a quick picture of them to shade them on social media. Always ask yourself if it’s ethical and how you would feel if you were in their shoes. Happy tweeting and story-posting, however, just not when you’re in sensitive situations. 


I'm a senior at the University of Windsor, where I enjoy writing for HCXO and taking on an executive role. I appreciate puns, americanos, and birds of the eupatria species. In my free time I love to advocate for BIPOC and educate myself on topics that I may not be too familiar with. 
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