I'll confess: I'm a Facebook addict. About a year ago, I scoffed at the idea of a social networking. I had dallied with MySpace but didn't like it, so I abandoned my page. Then an old high school friend got me on to Facebook and I've been hooked ever since. I've reconnected with several old friends and forged new work-related contacts.
But, like cyberspace in general, I've discovered another, less savory side to Facebook and other social networks.
In looking for the American Nurses Association Facebook page, I found the page "ANA stands for Alcoholic Nurses Anonymous (not American Nurses Association)." Naively, I thought it would be a site for nurses recovering from alcohol or substance abuse - a place where they could share their stories, offer support and motivation. Nope. It was basically a site detailing how nurses and nursing students proudly get trashed any chance they get. "I have noticed that in my many visits to parties and bars, nurses seem to make up a large chunk of the drunken population. (God help our patients!)" reads a snippet from the page's description. What a way to promote the integrity of the profession!
Another gem, found by a colleague, is Alcoholic Nymphomaniac Nurses and Student Nurses! In keeping with its B-movie name, it contains cartoony images of "naughty nurses" in skimpy outfits and suggestive poses. No doubt the people who created these Facebook pages thought they were being witty and satiric. While I was heartened to see they aren't getting that much traffic; they're still out there for potential nurses who are searching for legitimate professional groups.
Perhaps what's more disturbing is a case in Britain where a night-shift nurse flashed patients and took photos, which were promptly posted on Facebook. The nurses involved were disciplined and social networks were banned from the premises. What about patient privacy? Did the nurses honestly think they could get away with it?
Sites and stunts such as those mentioned above paint a poor picture of present and future nurses. Also, they often overstep professional boundaries.
For some additional insight on the impact of social networking on the image of nursing, I spoke with Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN, executive director of The Truth About Nursing, an advocacy group that seeks better portrayal of nurses in the media.
More nurses are connecting to the public through the Internet, via social networking, blogs or discussion boards, she said, but many are unaware just how public the information they post can be. "I'm on a listerv, and someone Googled themselves and found the information was public, which nobody knew," she said.
Chat rooms and message boards admittedly are informal places where you can check your briefcase or stethoscope at the door, and Summers isn't against having fun or sharing some jokes. However, that doesn't mean you should adopt the ‘Net speak of the average teen or post pictures that would even make your family doctor blush.
"Posting things that emphasize to the public that ‘nurses are sluts' or ‘nurses are drunks' plays into some stereotypes that the average person and profession does not face," she said.
"I'm not always impressed with a lot of the postings I see on nursing-related sites," Summers added. "Some nurses come off as only half-literate, and many postings give the impression that nurses don't even have mastery over their own professional scope of practice. When members of public visit these discussion threads, I fear they will come away with the impression that nurses aren't all that well-educated. I know it seems like a casual environment, but nurses have a lot of image hurdles to jump over. How we present ourselves in every public communication is important."