Through social media, doctors now get a media spotlight

Aspire to decency. Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives; and if, periodically, you fail ­ as you surely will,  ­ adjust your lives, not the standards.
-Ted Koppel

This week started out ordinary enough but took a quick turn when I got a message from the media director at my university that a 14 month old opinion article I’d written for the student newspaper and posted on KevinMD.com where I’m a regular contributor was suddenly being quoted on the Huffington Post and other websites.   Within hours, over a dozen media websites were quoting “A War on Hair.”

The original article was written as one in a series of opinion pieces on medical issues pertinent to college students requested by the student newspaper.  I wrote it in spring 2011 after draining my umpteenth staph bacteria genital abscess due to the increasingly common practice of cosmetic removal of pubic hair.   I felt the students needed to understand the hazards of what they were doing and hoped I could spare the next patient from experiencing an infection so painful and potentially serious.

So this week it goes viral, over a year later, all in a matter of hours.  I was being quoted as if I had just been interviewed by these news agencies, which I had not, and they began feeding wrong information to each other:  I was identified as “a leading British physician” since the first media report originated in the U.K.   One British site actually asked permission to reprint the original article, which I appreciated so that my words could not be taken out of context, but they attached a photo of me to the article lifted from my family picture on my personal blog.

Soon my personal cell phone started to ring in the middle of the night and my email in-box filled up–messages from Europe, South America and all over the U.S. came in with requests for interviews, wanting me to elaborate in more detail on my very “provocative” point of view.  I said no to every one of them even though some are respectable agencies, like the BBC, because I’ve said all I have to say on this particular subject.  I do not want my long career to be reduced to my defense of pubic hair.   Indeed I can hold my head up and be proud to tell my grandchildren someday that I actually turned down the Playboy Channel.

The online comments on the articles rapidly reproduced themselves, numbering now in the thousands,  with many hostile to my perspective and saying so in the most inflammatory way possible, citing my age, my looks and obvious lack of sex appeal as showing I lacked credibility in this subject.  I dared to question the point of a multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry spawned by the multi-billion dollar porn industry, and no one was going to let me get away with it unscathed.

The internet has made it too easy for human beings to lack accountability for their words and actions by allowing anonymous comments on media websites and blogs.   It is easy to attack, lie, threaten, and bully when it is only words on a screen directed at someone you don’t know and will never meet.   Decency and civility are lost forever when the standards for moral and ethical behavior disappear in a fog of pixels and bytes.

Now after 48 hours it seems to have mostly blown over, though my name on Google will never look the same again.    It will take some time and distance for me to consider whether I did the right thing writing about a medical issue no one else would touch.   If it convinces someone to put away the razor, stop the waxing, and respect their body as nature intended it to be,  maybe I did.

Ask me in a year or so.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.
-Albert Einstein

Emily Gibson is a family physician who blogs at Barnstorming.

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  • Docbart

    No good deed goes unpunished. You did the right thing. Don’t be discouraged. Ignore the trolls.

  • Emily Altman

    No truer words spoken “The internet has made it too easy for human beings to lack accountability for their words and actions by allowing anonymous comments on media websites and blogs. It is easy to attack, lie, threaten, and bully when it is only words on a screen directed at someone you don’t know and will never meet. Decency and civility are lost forever when the standards for moral and ethical behavior disappear in a fog of pixels and bytes.” The anonymity of the internet allows for behavior that would never be practiced face to face. A shame.

  • http://www.HealthcareMarketingCOE.com/ Simon Sikorski MD

    I personally did not find the blog post to be controversial but one of the things I always tell doctors is to be careful what they write about on their blogs. Anything related to politics, religion, viewpoints, and even a blog post about hygiene has the potential to “box-in” a doctor into a category. A lot of medical bloggers make this mistake. I put together several tips for medical bloggers in a report with case studies, let me know if you’d like a copy.

  • http://twitter.com/BrianSMcGowan Brian S. McGowan PhD

    …but is this necessarily a social media issue or a journalism issue in general. Had you written the same thoughts within a online journal or magazine, and it was google-able, the chances are the same thing would have happened. I think you did exactly what I hope I would have done in the same situation. And for this you should be commended!

    Brian

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