How tagged Facebook pictures can affect a doctor’s online reputation

I’ve read a number of recent articles on social media and medical professionalism. The post in the New York Times about physicians and Facebook prompted me to think about my own presence online.

Dr. Ryan Greysen, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholar at Yale School of Medicine, says he is concerned about the professionalism of “the new generation of physicians and students who enter the medical world after years of saturation in social media.” As a member of the new generation, I’m wondering if I should be more worried about my digital footprint standing in the way of my future career?

The recommendations reported in the Times are suitable for more experienced physicians or for those who are new to social media. These recommendations however, fail to take into account the realities of living and growing up in a digital world. Despite the fact that I never use my camera, I find myself tagged in new Facebook pictures every week– some photos are candid, and others are not. I can untag the ones I don’t like, but whether or not those photos are visible on my profile, they still exist somewhere online. Because I don’t post pictures myself, my untagged photos may still be accessible to people who can view my friends’ albums, and as Dr. Danielle Ofri explains, you never know what “a friend’s friend’s friend might do with a photo.” Over the past six years I’ve accumulated exactly 1,602 tagged photographs, but I have no idea how many photos I have untagged … is there an app for that?

Despite your best efforts to maintain a professional profile online, you cannot control every aspect of your digital footprint. Therefore, should you fear the possibility that a photo you didn’t post could “cast a poor light” on your medical career? As a member of the next generation of physicians, I’m wondering what we can do to protect ourselves against this possibility in the future.

Maybe new physicians should give up the “fun and casual side of social media,” but what difference will it make if no one else makes the same sacrifice? Perhaps it won’t matter as much by the time I’m an intern because my residents and attendings will probably have untagged and unwanted Facebook pictures out there too.

Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam is a medical student who blogs at her self-titled site, Jennifer Adaeze AnyaegbunamShe can be reached on Twitter @JenniferAdaeze

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  • jw

    I suppose the upshot here is to watch your manners when there’s a camera in the room…

  • CE

    Which is why it’s important to be on FB.

    So you can “supervise” and “regulate” information. People think that if they don’t participate in social media, they are immune. No. They are just “out of the loop” as their friends/family/colleagues post photos and comments that you are completely unaware exist.

    Close your eyes and it disappears? Nope.

    Professionals need to take an active role in developing and maintaining their online reputation…
    …and this can only be done with participation.

  • Dan

    Here’s a thought: be classy all the time, and it won’t matter which pictures are on facebook. I have over 1,000 tagged to my profile too, but I would have no problem with my grandmother (or my future patients) seeing any of them.

  • Jin Packard

    @CE – agreed. Dan & jw, I don’t think it’s possible to be classy all the time. People take pitures at parties because it’s fun to see the aftermath. We’re all human, nobody can be prim & proper 100% of the time.

    You know you can just set privacy on FB so only close friends can see your profile. It won’t censor all your photos (esp those in other friend’s albums) but that would give you control over most of your image/reputation on FB.

    I only let loose with close friends, who almost always tag me and they don’t mind if I ask them to remove a particularly embarrassing photo or just crop me out.

  • Jin Packard
  • Dial Doctors

    I wish we could be classy all the time but the truth is that’s impossible. And even if you are it may still look improper. I’m female and this situation reminds me of something that happened to me. I was in a party wearing a tube top which wasn’t at all improper. During the party my boyfriend hugged me and someone took a picture of us mid-kiss. After I saw it I was shocked because it looked like I was naked! I untagged it because it looked incredibly inappropriate especially when you consider the ten people in the background with beers in their hands. Impropriety can even appear as such when all you have is a still image of what really happened. Although my facebook is incredibly restricted (only I can see my pictures) I can’t control other people’s albums.

  • Dr Sam Girgis

    Well, I guess the solution to this problem is to never engage in activities that are unprofessional or not consistent with the ideals of a physician. Remember, even when your not wearing the white coat… you’re still a physician and are still representing the field of medicine. We should continue to strive to uphold the image of physicians as professionals in and out of the hospital/ office. And if that doesn’t motivate you, future employers will be reviewing facebook accounts for inconsistencies in their acceptable standards of behavior.

    Dr Sam Girgis

  • Andrew

    I have to agree with response by CE – one should have the ability to regulate information. FB does give you the option of specifying “Who can see photos and videos I’m tagged in” – it gives you the option of specifying a customized list

  • aly

    Its easy….don’t have a FB account.

  • Lil A

    Easy, don’t have a facebook account, cover your face every time a camera is around, and wear a burka every time you go out and never drink a drop of alcohol and keep the curtains in your home drawn 24/7-don’t open them for sun or fresh air.

    I mean really, there will be times in which you won’t be “decent,” especially if you drink. There will be people out there that look for an opportunity to photograph and tag these times as a joke. It’s called life, we are not perfect. All you can do is to untag yourself and ask the person to remove it, but the reality is that once on the internet, it will remain there. You can try to act decent in public, but there will be times where we mess up, and I think that people need to remember that physicians are humans too.

  • gary levin

    I think the horse is already out of the barn. Digital data is ‘virtual’. It ain’t real…I find that even crediible sources can be inaccurate, the internet will never be secure. We are placing too much faith on technology, and i think it is producing more work than saving in the long run.  We have a huge unemployment problem, why are we eliminating jobs in favor of technology….This attitude has prevailed since the early 1960s and it has f inally caught up with us in unemployment, increasing needs for entitlement, bad debt, and even climate change (just kidding about that, but who knows?)

  • Pedro Iturbide

    We are now doctors of the new digital era. The pictures that exist SOMEWHERE since I`m an intern are the same ones our colleges have on the net posted.
    It doesn’t  matter too much now…… I really hope so hahaha

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