Keeping It Legal Online Don't accidentally break little-known laws, regulations or policies by posting too much information on social media. Get Social
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Get Social  |   June 01, 2016
Keeping It Legal Online
Author Notes
  • Mary Huston, MS, CCC-SLP, is a school-based clinician in rural North Dakota. An avid user of social media, she helped form the SLP network on Twitter and continues to collaborate internationally with colleagues via Twitter, Facebook, and her blog at www.speechadventures.com. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues.
    Mary Huston, MS, CCC-SLP, is a school-based clinician in rural North Dakota. An avid user of social media, she helped form the SLP network on Twitter and continues to collaborate internationally with colleagues via Twitter, Facebook, and her blog at www.speechadventures.com. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues.×
  • Tanya Coyle, MSc, is a school-based SLP in Ontario, Canada, who helped establish the speech-language community on Twitter (@SLPTanya). She proposed and manages The ASHA Leader’s Get Social series. SLPTanya@gmail.com
    Tanya Coyle, MSc, is a school-based SLP in Ontario, Canada, who helped establish the speech-language community on Twitter (@SLPTanya). She proposed and manages The ASHA Leader’s Get Social series. SLPTanya@gmail.com×
Article Information
Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / Get Social
Get Social   |   June 01, 2016
Keeping It Legal Online
The ASHA Leader, June 2016, Vol. 21, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.GS.21062016.np
The ASHA Leader, June 2016, Vol. 21, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.GS.21062016.np
When thinking about social media use for professional reasons, we all probably understand the basics of broad legalities. We know not to use a client’s name online or discuss private matters with clients via social media. However, people don’t always consider or realize how many gray areas they also need to understand. It’s our responsibility as regulated health care clinicians to provide the best possible care for our clients, while also operating within legal boundaries meant to protect us and the public.
The most obvious legal boundaries for social media fall under confidentiality and informed consent. We can’t use client names or any identifying information online. If you treat a client with a low-incidence disorder and you post related questions and details online, others might use your posts to figure out the client’s identity. Revealing this information might be a breach of protection of privacy. It’s best not to discuss clients at all—except in broad generalities—when seeking advice and ideas on the internet.
Likewise, we know not to post identifying features in picture format on Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram and similar sites. However, even a photo not showing someone’s face might reveal other identifying clues. If clients do give consent to post photos of them or their children, make sure it’s fully informed consent. The clients must know how you plan on using the photos, if names or other identifying text will accompany the photos, who will access the photos, how this exposure might affect the client and so on.
In the U.S., schools must adhere to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This law gives parents the right to control what—if any—of their child’s directory information the school can release. Because of this mandate, most schools create their own privacy policies for all faculty to follow. Many schools don’t allow audio or video recordings of students, for example, without parental consent—not even for treatment purposes such as a language sample. Hospitals and skilled nursing facilities often institute similar policies. Posting pictures of clients, even with faces blurred out, on social media might violate workplace rules or other various privacy acts.
Client photos aren’t the only images you need to evaluate before posting. Showing images of copyrighted material can also result in legal issues. If copyright information gets lost in the shuffle of linking, pasting, sharing, pinning, etc., then the copyright holder potentially loses income. Even though the violation may be unintentional, it’s still a violation. North Central University recently published a blog post on the topic: Fair Use or Misuse? Social Media and Copyright Law.
Other social media legal issues might surprise you, including professional accountability (posting outdated, incorrect or questionable information), conflict of interest (promoting—on our professional pages—companies, techniques or materials from which we receive some kind of compensation) and maintaining professional boundaries while interacting with clients, companies or other professionals via social media channels.
Several medically based regulatory bodies in Ontario, Canada, including the College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists of Ontario, put together “Pause Before You Post,” an excellent e-learning module on using social media professionally. The sessions offer free advice and information about using social media professionally and responsibly. There’s an especially excellent section at the end called “Practice Scenarios.” (You can jump to this section without doing the rest of the module.) This section presents various situations and asks you to select the appropriate response and then provides carefully explained answers to each scenario.
Although the module focuses on Ontario regulatory law in privacy, consent and so on, most regulated health care professions in regulated health care professions in North America and other places. Often, only the names of various laws differ from place to place. We highly recommend completing this e-learning module to help you make informed choices about social media use. Of course, also check your specific state legal requirements.
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June 2016
Volume 21, Issue 6