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Sunday, March 24, 2019

An Ethical Obligation for Bioethicists to Utilize Social Media

Herron, PD
Hastings Cent Rep. 2019 Jan;49(1):39-40.
doi: 10.1002/hast.978.

Here is an excerpt:

Unfortunately, it appears that bioethicists are no better informed than other health professionals, policy experts, or (even) elected officials, and they are sometimes resistant to becoming informed. But bioethicists have a duty to develop our knowledge and usefulness with respect to social media; many of our skills can and should be adapted to this area. There is growing evidence of the power of social media to foster dissemination of misinformation. The harms associated with misinformation or “fake news” are not new threats. Historically, there have always been individuals or organized efforts to propagate false information or to deceive others. Social media and other technologies have provided the ability to rapidly and expansively share both information and misinformation. Bioethics serves society by offering guidance about ethical issues associated with advances in medicine, science, and technology. Much of the public’s conversation about and exposure to these emerging issues occurs online. If we bioethicists are not part of the mix, we risk yielding to alternative and less authoritative sources of information. Social media’s transformative impact has led some to view it as not just a personal tool but the equivalent to a public utility, which, as such, should be publicly regulated. Bioethicists can also play a significant part in this dialogue. But to do so, we need to engage with social media. We need to ensure that our understanding of social media is based on experiential use, not just abstract theory.

Bioethics has expanded over the past few decades, extending beyond the academy to include, for example, clinical ethics consultants and leadership positions in public affairs and public health policy. These varied roles bring weighty responsibilities and impose a need for critical reflection on how bioethicists can best serve the public interest in a way that reflects and is accountable to the public’s needs.