Background: The rapid growth and accessibility of social networking websites has fundamentally changed the way people manage information about their personal and professional lives. In particular, it has been suggested that interaction in virtual communities erodes elements of responsibility, accountability and social trust that build traditionally meaningful communities. The purpose of this study was to investigate how undergraduate medical students use the social network website Facebook, and to identify any unprofessional behaviour displayed online.
Methods: A voluntary anonymous online survey was devised by the University of Liverpool, and emailed to students. Question topics included the use of Facebook, privacy settings, groups relating to the course and professional behaviours. Results were input to spss for analysis.
Results: The response rate was 31 per cent (n = 56). The majority of respondents did have a Facebook account and admitted there were photos they found embarrassing on the site. Over half of the respondents reported they had seen unprofessional behaviour by their colleagues on Facebook. Although students say that they are aware of the UK's General Medical Council (GMC) guidance, unprofessional behaviour is still demonstrated on the site.
Discussion: This research highlights the issue of social networking websites and professionalism amongst medical students. Further guidance from the GMC and medical schools should remind students that images and information placed on social networking sites is in the public domain, and could impact upon their professional reputation and identity.
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2010.