Posted by: medicblog999 | June 18, 2009

A Bloggers Anonymity

High+court_897_18093547_0_0_260_300After the ruling of the high court this week, which stated that bloggers have no right to privacy under British law since blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity, there has been a tidal wave of discussion and knee jerk reactions from both sides of the argument. I have been thinking about what this means to the blogosphere and more specifically EMS blogs and I have come to a conclusion which I will share.

Please remember that this is my opinion only and if you disagree with me, please write a comment and lets have a little debate on this if needed!

I am obviously not anonymous on this blog. Everyone who knows me, knows about my blogging escapades and is probably sick to death of how much I go on about blogging this and blogging that. My employers are aware of the blog and I have a general support for what I do (although im sure that would quickly change if I changed the focus and ethos of medicblog999).

I decided to start this blog in the middle of last year. At that time there was a major decision for me to make…..what was this blog going to be like and did I need to be anonymous or not. It took until the 31st December last year for my employers to be happy with what i was going to do and give me the OK to go ahead. If I had been annonymous then this obviously wouldn’t have been needed. I made the conscious decision to tailor this blog around the good aspects of what I do, the reason I love my job, and what I gain from doing what I do. I also decided to share the hard times too, the times where things get on top of me and times where I have really struggled with my feelings and thoughts. It had to be like this, because I wanted the blog to attract people into the service. I wanted people who were thinking of a career in an Ambulance service to get a feel what it is like and the effects it has on a person.

What I didn’t want to do was get involved in the political/management/union side of things. Every job has its problems, every employer makes mistakes as does every employee at one time or another. There are some bloggers who choose to use their blogs to raise awareness into practices or management/government strategies that they believe are not acting in the best interests of the public at large. Most, if not all, of these bloggers choose to be annonymous. They do not shy away from the difficult stories or the policies/procedures which do not work, but they must know the risk that they are taking in doing what they do.

Every NHS employer has job descriptions that states you must not commit any action which may bring the NHS Trust into disrepute. As soon as you start blogging about topics which may bring about a negative impact to your employer, you know that there are people who are going to be actively looking to find out who is the writer and then bring disciplinary action against them.

Maybe I am a coward, maybe some of you reading this may think that I have taken the easy option by deciding not to expose any problems in my service which I may disagree with. My choice was to raise concerns through the proper channels, I have been an active member on a number of committees and have had my say to try and change things for the better of my colleagues and the public of the North East, when the need has arisen.

The NHS whistleblowing policy has been put in place to allow employees the reassurance that there will be no negative comeback if they decide to raise matters of concern. I feel that this is the way I would progress things if I really felt that strongly about something.

I am not surprised by this decision of the High Court. I expect privacy in my private life, that is my own concern and no one elses, but once I put something on my blog, it is out in the public domain and I feel accountable for what I right down.

I admire the bloggers out there that push for change, that expose things that really need to be addressed, but I know I am not one of those bloggers. I would not risk my career for that, as I said, maybe I am a coward, but thats me!

What do you think, should there be protection for bloggers?

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Responses

  1. I think the best protection for bloggers would have to be not to blog. We’re writing this stuff so people will read it. Once it’s published it is the public’s property.

    I’m with you writing about the positive side of things. I went off course last week and pushed the envelope a little but ultimately that is not what my blog is all about.

  2. I have to believe that most anonymity is a bit of a sham. If someone that knows me in the “real” world, as opposed to just the blogoshpere, were to read my blog, they would instantly know who I am. And I think for most bloggers it would be that way.

    For that very reason, not even those closest to me, know that I have a blog. I could probably have more followers and feedback, but that really isn’t the reason I started my blog. It was mostly just a way to be able to put my thoughts and feelings out there for me, and others find interest it, so much the better.

    None of this rambling I just wrote really answers your question, but I do feel that there is a reason for the free speech amendment.

    However, where would my “free speech” end, when I start to bash or report in a negative way on my employer, and their right to not be slandered begin?

  3. Coming soon to the US – The end of anonymity.

    I try to make exactly who and where I am fuzzy for the reason that I do not want somebody to recognize a patient that I treat. I’m supremely careful about protecting patient confidentiality… but the anonymity adds an additional layer of protection that any patient that I might talk about in a vague matter deserves.

    I feel that it is perfectly acceptable to speak about a patient presentation if you completely obscure any possible way that someone could identify that patient. Medical case studies are ok.

    This could be a post. And a link.

    In the US. Slander (verbal) and Libel (written) defamation of character can be litigated. However, in the legal system, the truth is an absolute defense. For example, if you said John Doe is a known worm herder, and John Doe did in fact herd worms it isn’t slander (or Libel, if written)

    That doesn’t mean to say that outside of the legal system an organization couldn’t fire you. They can, just as John Doe could choose not to be your friend if you told people he herded worms.

    Did this make sense? Sorry, long shift

  4. My blog is anonymous for obvious reasons. It started, as most do, as a way to vent. Cheap therapy I call it. The US is so sue crazy these days that even if someone thought I chronicled their story, THEY would be the ones coming forward and making it public, breaking their privacy rights, not me. But I would still lose.

    I think blogging has in it all the protections one needs and wants, if one chooses to go to extremes. Anonymous email signs up for anonymous blog, etc etc.

    You hit the problem on the head though with the line about not doing anything that makes the NHS look bad. My employer has a similar clause. But if I’m pointing out ways my system can improve and where we’re lacking, how is that bad? It’s true, so why can’t I type it?

    The perception of wrongdoing is more feared than wrongdoing itself.

    Luckily I was able to bring the blog to the attention of my command staff along with a Project they are very excited about (especially the part where they don’t pay for it) and any negatives are outweighed by the positives.

    In the end all it takes is for one person to say “I don’t like that” and poof, no more cheap therapy.

    We make our own protections.

  5. I was going to write about this on my blog, but you and various others beat me to it, so I’ll use your forum to comment. As opposed to HM, several of my friends, family and colleagues know about my blog. That was never my intention, but happened kind of by accident. I don’t have a problem with it, as I don’t think I’ve got anything to hide. I believe we bloggers provide a service, an insight, that is otherwise hidden from public view. Sure, we have to be careful first and foremost about maintaining patient confidentiality, and second about not bringing our employers into disrepute. But the fact that we write our thinking in the public domain is of our choosing, and we can’t expect to have the best of both worlds… We can choose to be careful, but I don’t think that we can choose to hide forever!

  6. I haven’t had chance to read the whole judgement in this case but from my understanding so far it does appear that there has perhaps been too much read into it by the media.

    Generally, it does appear that it has been interpreted that bloggers have no right to anonymity at all. However, this particular case appears only to have established that if someone discovers the identity of a blogger then there is nothing to stop it being disclosed. This is rather different to saying that a blogger is not entitled to anonymity. If the blogger is so careless (and I don’t use that word critically) as to allow someone to work out who they are then they cannot expect that person to be prevented from disclosing it.

  7. whats wrong with worm herders? we provide a valued service to the community at large and I am hurt by your allegations. Get me the phone book I need a lawyer………

  8. Doh! I meant libel. Thanks, Ckemtp…

    And where you are right, that the truth is defendable, I was more going along the lines of they’ll just fire you anyway. Either that or they’ll bank on the fact that their pocketbook is larger than mine.

    I suppose it also wouldn’t help my case if I called my boss blithering buttsniffer on my blog due to a difference of opinion. Not that I am saying that. Just making a point… 😉

  9. I wasn’t trying to be smug on the libel/slander thing RD, just trying to make the discussion more accurate for the readers 😉

    Isn’t there a medical abbreviation for a Boss who’s a Blithering Buttsniffer? Is there a difference to if he/she sniffs the left or the right but? A LBBB or a RBBB?

    Bad joke.

    There are a lot of local political issues that I’d like to blog about. However, I do so only in vague terms, due to the fact that I would create a firestorm. I did that once and wow… it was an experience. If you’d like a similar one, try writing about the benefits and drawbacks of one form of US EMS delivery over another.

    I wrote a post similar to this issue regarding a Kansas (US) medic who broke patient confidentiality on his MySpace Blog and it cost him his career.

    http://proems.blogspot.com/2009/06/warning-to-ems-blogosphere.html

  10. I didn’t think you were, Ckemtp. 🙂

    As for firestorms, I think I’ll stick to Smoothbore vs. Fog nozzle (smoothbore), or TP over the top of the roll vs. down the back and under the roll (over the top).

  11. My initial thoughts on anonymity were quite clear when I started my blog: keep anonymous so that confidentiality could be maintained for my patients. If I have something to say, I say it out loud anyway!

    At first, I didn’t even tell any of my friends that I was blogging, for fear of losing that anonymity. But then I realised that keeping quiet about who I was didn’t protect my patients. So, instead, I made sure that my entries were different enough from reality to ensure that no-one could be identified. At that point, it didn’t matter who knew who I was, and my mask was off!!

  12. My immediate friends know I blog, and I admit it.. whenever I need a traffic boost I do a mass mail to all the contacts in my e-mail book asking them to please come read something… please.

    That usually gets forwarded… then I get a couple hundred hits and such.

    I’d blog about what happened yesterday, cuz I got a really good “Kick the grim reaper in the balls” save, but I can’t. Too soon for me to write about it for fear of patient confidentiality

  13. Well you probably know MY reason for blogging..I chatted about it on BBC Radio recently and there is a link to that on my blog…it’s a really personal thing for me..to get the pain and stress out of my mind and down on paper helps enormously. Also it raises the awarness of this not so common cancer. Once the words are publish then it’s common property. Your blog is one of the very good one…must help with recuitment..we SO need guys like you and Michael ( Providence ) Living 18 miles from Lincoln County our nearest Hospital, the paramedics often arrive in the village…thanks from me..we could not manage without you all.


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