We all have them, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. These accounts keep us in touch with each other. I myself have Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. Each of these accounts stand on their own merits, each offer different angles to the basic principle of social networking – a means to stay connected electronically across the globe. However, it also can create quite the headache for not only EMS, but Public Safety as a whole. Personally, I do not have much of an opinion about the restrictions that should be placed on an employee and their right, or privilege to access social media during work hours. That being said, social media can be used for a lot of good during an emergency, or massive public event. The majority of this post will be spent looking over the good, bad, and ugly sides of the social media world.
Since I try and keep a slight optimistic side to my life, lets talk about the good sides of social media first. Social media allows for almost instantaneous connections across the globe. It is probably the most rapid form of information deployment out there to date. I would even say it is more reliable than its predecessor “The Emergency Alert System,” that we see overtake our airwaves and televisions every once and a while. An example I like to use is a Tweet from Twitter after the Super Bowl this past weekend. Twitter announced that in the last three minutes of the game, they were seeing an average of 10,000 tweets per second. That is an insane number of tweets if you actually do the math out (1.8 Million in total to be exact). If you look at those numbers in an emergency situation, you could have collected 1.8 million different potential leads in a case. Conversely, you can very easily get as much information out there to the public through your followers and re-tweets. Twitter allows for rapid deployment in 140 characters, this requires you to keep your information relevant and brief. I think that is an absolutely amazing tool, that we would be foolish not to capitalize on.
Let’s talk about the bad portion of Social Media. I have a personal Facebook account, the account is locked down tighter than Fort Knox. However, I still operate under the idea of “Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want to explain later.” Overall, that is a good way to look at social media. Facebook tends to draw the idea of “look at what I am doing.” This attracts people to post pictures for people to like, allows you to check into locations, and post statuses about what it is you are doing. Now, that is all well and good if used properly. We all know the type of person out there, commonly described as a ‘whacker’ or a ‘buff.’ They are out there looking for that great picture of the incident. I have no problem with outside photographers taking pictures of incidents. I actually encourage it because it allows the public to get a real view of what it is we do. I do have a problem when those pictures come from the providers/responders themselves. The motives behind the pictures may be for glory purposes, the ability to gloat about the great call that they just did. Most of us keep the patients identity out of the picture for fear of reprimand for violation of patient’s privacy. There is sort of an ethical debate about whether or not responders on the scene should be posting pictures. To be honest, I am leaning towards shouldn’t. We should be focused on maintaining the safety of what we are doing, not posting updates to various social media websites about what we are doing. If you wanna post, or write about it later then that is different.
Then there is the ugly side of social media. The side that gets people in trouble. There have been several cases of discipline handed down, or at least attempted to be handed down, about people complaining about superiors on social media website. Like I said earlier, if you don’t wanna explain what you posted to an employer later on…then don’t post it. Facebook can often be construed as some place where your actions have no consequences. Just think before you post, if you couldn’t walk up to that supervisor and tell them face to face what your problem is, then you better not be posting it on a website. I would like to dive into the legal side of this argument but unfortunately I do not have the expertise on the laws to really display a proper argument. I am going to refer you to an article, written by David Konig, that talks about how to properly handle social media faux pas. You can find the link below, along with several other links to articles that are a good read on the subject.
Speaking of the side of social media that will get people in trouble, I bring you to YouTube. YouTube has increased in popularity exponentially in recent years. This is a story of a Fire Department in Macon, GA. It is a YouTube clip of an apparent attempted robbery. A masked gunman burst into the firehouse, forces everyone onto the ground, drags a “probie” off camera and then a gun-shot is heard. I am all for a little chop busting when it comes to the new guy, but this is down-right unacceptable. The problem with social media is that we are forced to deal with how things appear, and not how they are. The appearance of this video is that there is a possible shooting incident inside the firehouse. In actuality it is only a prank. According to the article (cited below) on EMS1.com, five out of the seven firefighters on the video were in on the prank, and the two rookies were not. Frankly, if any of the firefighters that were in this video walk away from this incident with still having a job it will be a miracle. There are so many what-if’s that can be raised in this situation it is scary. I’ll spare you the time of going through them.
With the exception of the last couple of examples, problems with social media are rarely ever bad intent issues. Usually people mean well, and don’t see the fall out from their actions. Hopefully, you will choose your posts wisely. Remember that just because it is online does not mean that it is protected. Also, some organizations do have social media policies. This governs use of social media while at work, as well as information that may be “corporately protected.” As long as you always use sound mind and judgement when posting information online, you should have no problems.
Feel free to browse some of the articles that I have linked here, it’s where I got my information, you may find some of it helpful too!
STUDY: Twitter helps boost EMS Response
Social Media and EMS
Discipline over Ga. Firehouse ‘prank’ video
EMS and social media: Don’t be a Weiner
If you’re reading this and have some legal expertise on the subject, feel free to comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear some examples on the subjects.