A few weeks ago I blogged about getting twitterstormed by Dr Christian Jessen, presenter of the TV shows Embarrassing Bodies and Supersize vs Superskinny, after I asked him to be a bit more polite when talking to an eating disorder survivor. One problem with Twitter is the way a one-on-one argument can quickly be turned into a public affair simply by retweeting or by sticking text in front of somebody’s @ ID, thereby inviting any passerby to pile-in.
If the tweeter involved has a large following, then this can turn into a deluge of abusive messages. This happened yesterday when a famous comedian made an ill-advised joke about self-harm. Somebody with a history of self-harm sent him an angry tweet in response to this. He then responded in turn by retweeting her, with the result that she then received a stream of hostile tweets from his fans that lasted for 11 hours. To be fair to the comedian, she did swear at him, and he did later un-retweet her and ask his fans to stop, but by then the damage was done.
It’s a particularly rum business when this sort of thing involves health professionals. The various regulators (e.g. General Medical Council, Nursing and Midwifery Council etc) have made it clear they expect professionals to behave themselves on social media, and I’m sure bombarding people with abuse is something they expect us not to do.
A couple of weeks after I had my own run-in with Dr Jessen, it seems another Twitter user took issue with his online behaviour.
One thing that tends to come with a large Twitter following is a fair amount of grief from people lining up to have a go at someone, and if would be fair to say that Dr Jessen is no exception to that. However, it’s also fair to say that the person here was being strongly critical, but not abusive or insulting.
So, how did Dr Jessen respond?
Yep, he reposted her message with “UTTER ROT” before it, thereby rebroadcasting it to his 236,000 followers. To put that into perspective, the daily circulation of the Guardian is 204,000. In old media terms, this would be the equivalent of sticking someone’s comments in a national newspaper with a comment of, “Look what this person said about me!” and putting their phone number at the end.
The result, predictably, was that she got several hours of abuse from Dr Jessen’s fans. This seems to be something of a habit for him.
What does the GMC social media guidance say?
You must not bully, harass or make gratuitous, unsubstantiated or unsustainable comments about individuals online.