May 2012, Volume 8, Issue 5
Published by AEGIS Communications
The “Dark Side” of Social Media
Dentists should be aware that while social media can be the perfect marketing tool, it can have negative effects if the dentist uses it improperly or a patient uses it against a practice. One cautionary tale involves Dr. Dove, a pediatric dentist in Bakersfield, California whose reputation was questioned in August 2011 after the father of a patient created an inflammatory Facebook page called “I Hate Dr. Dove of Bakersfield.” The father claimed that Dr. Dove had extracted his son’s tooth without sedation and anesthetic, and that the young boy cried and screamed as assistants held him down. The Facebook page caught fire, and within two days had attracted more than 200 members, many with horror stories of their own. None of these claims were substantiated, and the man who created the page could not prove that his story was true, but considerable damage was done to Dr. Dove’s reputation.5
Clinicians who experience the defamatory effects of negative social-media coverage do not have many options to clear the air. HIPAA laws prevent dentists from discussing the case directly, but leaving negative Facebook posts or online reviews unaddressed can actually lead to even more issues. In the case of Dr. Dove, the Facebook page was controlled by an administrator who would not allow Dr. Dove to join the group and respond to the negative comments left by the posters. Dr. Dove has mentioned that of the hundreds of people sharing stories on the page, only three are actually patients of his; the rest had never visited his practice.5 If Dr. Dove were allowed access to the page, he would have been able to debunk the false accusations from people who weren’t his patients.
However, Dr. Dove’s is a rare case. More often, clinicians have to deal with negative, public reviews on websites such as Yelp! and Google. Kashmir Hill, a technology and social-media blogger for Forbes who has a particular interest in online privacy, says that the best defense against bad reviews is communication. “It is much better to respond to these negative reviews, even if you are non-specific, than to just let them sit there and fester. It is so much better to engage than to ignore,” she says.
The prospect of bad online reviews has rattled some clinicians so badly that they’ve taken to asking patients to sign a “Mutual Privacy Agreement,” which essentially gives the practice copyright over anything patients may write about it online. That gives the clinician the right to remove negative reviews and comments on social-media sites. Hill believes that these agreements have the potential to do more harm than good, as most people will then begin to question why the clinician needs his or her patients to sign such paperwork before their appointment. “It draws too much attention,” she says, “It makes the story that the clinician is trying to suppress even bigger.” Hill notes that the main organization offering Mutual Privacy Agreements has stopped distributing them due to the bad publicity, but that has not completely stopped clinicians from using them. “Clinicians who use Mutual Privacy Agreements are not addressing the root of the problem—the negative reviews that already exist,” she says.
To protect themselves and their reputations, some clinicians choose to hire companies that monitor their social-media activity. There are many different companies whose sole purpose is to keep track of another business’ social-media sites to ensure that nothing negative is being said about the company online. These companies can also specialize in damage control, taking the initiative to address problems online when they occur.
The potential pitfalls should not, however, prevent clinicians from using social media. The benefits of connecting on a personal level with their patients and making new contacts and forging new relationships far outweighs the potential harm that can be caused by a few loud, disgruntled patients. All of the social-media experts agree that the best defense against negative people on the Internet is to have scores of positive people on the clinician’s side.