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Unprofessional behaviour on social media by medical students

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Social media are defined as a group of internet-based applications that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content within a virtual community or network.1 Their rapid growth over the past decade has caused a paradigm shift in the way people communicate. The social media service Facebook reported 1.19 billion active users in 2013, and as early as 2008 the site was used by 64% of medical students,2 increasing to 93% of Australian first-year health professional students in 2013,3 suggesting that Facebook and other social media services form a growing part of students’ lives.

Earlier research has examined the use of social media by medical students and doctors for personal purposes and discussed the implications for medical professionalism.4 One study5 explored American medical schools’ experience of medical students posting improper content online, including profanity, discriminatory language, depictions of alcohol intoxication, and sexually suggestive material. Such cases have led to disciplinary action and even expulsion.6 In response to the growing use of social media and concerns about its effect on professionalism, the Australian Medical Association published a guideline on online professionalism for medical students and practitioners…