Social Media: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Posted on April 7th, 2011 by Admin

An article in today's New York Times isn't about health care, but it does highlight the importance of organizations having policies related to employee use of social media, as well as strong training programs. The article - "Police Lesson: Social Network Tools Have 2 Edges" - leads with a story that could well fit into our Friday Faux Pas series: a police officer involved in a fatal shooting had listed his occupation on Facebook as "human waste disposal." Here's an excerpt from the Times' article:

Social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter can be valuable assets for law enforcement agencies, helping them alert the public, seek information about crimes and gather evidence about the backgrounds of criminal suspects. But the Internet can also get police departments into trouble.

Public gaffes like Officer Economidy’s — his cynical job description on Facebook was “extremely inappropriate and a lapse in judgment on my part,” he said last week in an e-mail — are only one of the risks. A careless posting on a networking site, law enforcement experts say, can endanger an officer’s safety, as it did in Santa Monica, Calif., last year when the Police Department went to great lengths to conceal a wounded officer’s identity and location, only to have a retired officer inadvertently reveal them on Facebook.

And defense lawyers increasingly scour social networking sites for evidence that could impeach a police officer’s testimony. In one case in New York, a jury dismissed a weapons charge against a defendant after learning that the arresting officer had listed his mood on MySpace as “devious” and wrote on Facebook that he was watching the film “Training Day” to “brush up on proper police procedure.”

Read the rest of the article here.

The wrong reaction to news like this would be to clamp down on use of social networks. With nearly 600 million people regularly on Facebook, that's impractical. And as the article says, police departments have found the tools valuable for their work.

Social media tools are just that: tools. I would even call them "power tools." A drill press, a bandsaw or a surgical scalpel can accomplish great good when used correctly, or can maim if handled carelessly. Social tools have similar power, for good or ill. And as Uncle Ben advised Peter Parker:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DfztIIqbTI]

Thus the title of this post. Social media tools put the once-scarce power of mass media in the hands of individuals. That's not going to change, and it's why our Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, through the Social Media Health Network, is providing training and materials for organizations interested in appropriately harnessing the power of social media for health-related purposes. We're sharing our Mayo Clinic curriculum and guidelines through the Network site, and encouraging members to share theirs so we can learn from each other.

Just as important as reducing the risks, members are committed to sharing information about how we're using social media tools productively and brainstorming ideas for further applications, to help knowledge on effective social media use spread more quickly for the benefit of patients everywhere.

For more information on the Network and a list of current members, see the Network tab.

Lee Aase is director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

Tags: Police, policies, social media, training

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