Can We Talk?: Reminder: Social Media Isn’t As Safe As You Think

Login toDownload PDF version
Marjorie Clayman

Several articles published in recent years showcase the difficulties health care practitioners can face because of careless social media posts. Katie Duke’s story is perhaps one of the best known. The New York nurse reposted a photo to Instagram. The photo of the untidy trauma room where a patient who had gotten hit by a train received care was captioned, “Man vs. 6 train.” After the post, Duke was fired; the hospital stated she lost her job because of insensitivity, not because of HIPAA violations. In another instance, a nurse at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center was fired in 2015 after posting on Facebook she was tired and bored in the ICU and was hoping someone would “code” so she would have something exciting to do.

One has to wonder how these professionals could have thought such posts would be ok. Health care practitioners might think limiting social media access to friends and family will suffice, but privacy settings on Facebook and Instagram offer a false sense of security. Converting private content into very public content isn’t difficult. 


On the surface, Facebook appears to offer several privacy options for making content hard or impossible to find. Content can be restricted to “friends only” or to filtered lists of friends, and a user’s wall can disallow posts, among several privacy settings available. Once all privacy settings are in place, it can be easy to assume anything posted will be 100% secure. However, a user’s content still can be shared without the user knowing. One way is via screen capture. A screen capture can be taken of anything on a computer screen, and that screen capture exists as separate content exclusively in the possession of the person who created it. Screen captures often are used online to ensure poor behavior is documented before the user deletes it. This means closely protected content can be posted publicly without the initial poster knowing unless he or she is tagged in the post. 

Another way is specific to Mac users. Any image that appears on Facebook can, on a Mac, be dragged to the desktop and saved as an image. This means content can be taken from a website and posted by an entirely different person. The initial Facebook user may never be notified the content has been repurposed.


Instagram does not offer quite as many security options as Facebook, which owns the service. The extent of the possible customization only allows people to choose between a private account and a public account. Like Facebook, images and posts can be stolen from Instagram without the user knowing. Using an iPhone, a person can post a screen capture, caption it, and potentially share a post intended to be completely private. Unless tagged, the original poster will never know the content was lifted. 


Who would take the time to screen capture a post and then share it? Often, such incidents are the result of innocent intentions. Maybe a person wants to show someone else how happy a relative is at work, or maybe a mom wants to show her pride in her health care practitioner child. Obviously, malicious intent is always a possibility: a former co-worker or employee can use social media to manipulate content or discredit individuals and facilities. 

The Best Defense

Health care practitioners are most likely to find security and success simply by never posting anything work-related. Even posting something funny or completely acceptable within the health care industry can be risky in the online world. The most positive message can be subverted or misunderstood. In most cases, the risk simply does not make the post worthwhile. 

As OWM expands its social media reach, the goal is to continue to inform and educate without compromising the integrity of the practitioners, patients, and posters. By exercising caution and respect, we can confidently encourage you to share away! 


Marjorie Clayman is the Director of Marketing for B2B Client Services. Clayman & Associates, LLC, Marietta, Ohio. Please address correspondence to Margie via Twitter: @margieclayman. This article was not subject to the Ostomy Wound Management peer-review process.