The College of Optometrists

Social media and online behaviour

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Key points

  • Social media is about communicating using internet-based applications such as forums, blogs and social networking sites.
  • You should maintain standards of professional communication even when using social media.
  • Social media can support your work by sharing information in professional networks.
  • There are risks to using informal means of communication and any online postings you make are subject to the laws of copyright and defamation.
  • You should maintain your own, and patient, privacy to protect personal information.
  • You should be aware that anonymity is difficult to maintain when using social media.
  • You should declare any conflicts of interest when posting material online.
  • You should refer to sections on Confidentiality, Partnership with patients, Maintaining boundaries and Working with colleagues.

About social media

Social media describes internet-based applications which allow individuals to create and exchange content and communicate with others. Examples of social media can include forums, blogs, microblogs (for example Twitter), wikis, podcasts, content communities (for example YouTube and Flickr), and social networking sites (for example Facebook and LinkedIn).235
You should follow the principles and standards of good communication if you are communicating in a professional or personal capacity, irrespective of the medium. See sections on Partnership with patients and Working with colleagues.
You should not share identifiable information about patients in an internet chat forum as this would be an improper disclosure. See section on Confidentiality.
You must respect copyright if you link or include images or other material.

Benefits and risks of using social media

If you use social media it can support your work as an optometrist and enhance your patient care by:
  1. being involved in clinical, public health or policy forums and networks
  2. participating in professional networks to find out about good practice
  3. contributing to information about eye health and services which patients can access.
You should consider the purpose of your online profile and use appropriate security and preference settings.
Social media sites can blur the boundary between professional and personal life, and comments that you publish in a personal capacity may become accessible by a much wider audience. 
If you identify yourself as working for a particular organisation, you must make it clear that any views you express are personal ones, and not necessarily those of your employer.
If patients contact you for professional purposes, using your private profile, you should indicate you are unable to respond privately and redirect them to your professional profile or contacts. See section on Maintaining boundaries.
Communications with colleagues and other professionals may be more informal and less precise than if you use other formal means of communication, and this might lead to miscommunication. You should also be aware that by making an online posting you are publishing text and this is subject to the same laws of copyright and defamation as other written or verbal communications, whether you make them in a personal or professional capacity.236, 237 You should not make personal or derogatory comments about patients or colleagues on public internet forums. You should be aware that material that is posted online can be traced back to the original author, even if it is done anonymously.
Social media sites can often lack context and a posting can be misinterpreted.


236 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
237 Defamation Act, 2013

Privacy and confidentiality

Issues of privacy and confidentiality are important if you use social media because online information can be easily accessed by others. You should be aware of the limitations of privacy online and regularly review privacy settings in your profiles. This is important because:
  1. social media sites cannot guarantee confidentiality, irrespective of your privacy settings
  2. your patients, colleagues and other professional contacts may be able to access your personal information
  3. information about your location may be embedded within photographs and other content, available for others to see
  4. if you post significant amounts of your personal information online, patients may have access to this and this may impact upon your professional relationship with them, and
  5. once information is published online it cannot be removed completely, as other users can distribute it more widely or comment on it.
You must not share patient identifiable information through social media, even if it is on a site for practitioners and is not accessible to the public.
You can share anonymised patient information on sites that are for practitioners only. However, you should remember that even if you anonymise patient information, the amount of additional information that is available online may mean that patients can be identified. This is a breach of patient confidentiality.
You must not discuss individual patients or their care with anyone, including the patients themselves, on publicly accessible social media.

Friend Requests

You should think carefully about connecting with a patient on social media sites and should only do this in a professional context. If a patient sends a friend request to your personal account you should decline this.


If you contribute optometric advice or comments to a publicly accessible social media site and identify yourself as an optometrist you should also identify yourself by name. Any material written by an author representing themselves as an optometrist is likely to be taken on trust.
If you upload content anonymously you should be aware that it can be traced back to its point of origin.

Conflicts of interest

If you post material online you should be open about any conflict of interest and declare any financial or commercial interests in healthcare organisations, companies or any other interests that may be perceived to influence your opinion. This applies even if you post material anonymously.

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