One in four physicians attacked and harassed on social media: study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on January 05, 2021

The doctors face negative reviews besides threats of rape and death

A new study carried out by researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago found that many physicians are reporting being sexually harassed and personally attacked on social media platforms on the basis of their religion, race, or medical recommendations.

Although the data were collected before the Covid-19 outbreak, the findings highlight the intensity of online harassment before the pandemic, which has only intensified since the spring, the study authors said.

Senior and corresponding author Dr Vineet Arora, assistant dean for scholarship and discovery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, said: “If anything, our data is likely an underestimate of the true extent of attacks and harassment post-pandemic.”

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He added: “So many doctors started to advocate public health measures during the pandemic and have been met with an increasingly polarised populace emboldened by leadership that devalues science and fact.”

Negative impact on career

The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found that one in four physicians report being personally attacked on social media.

This includes being barraged by negative reviews, receiving coordinated harassment and threats at work, and having their personal information shared publicly, while some attacks were particularly disturbing, such as threats of rape and death, the study authors said.

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The study further revealed that women were disproportionately affected by personal attacks and sexual harassment, with one in six women physicians reporting being sexually harassed on social media.

“We worry this emotionally distressing environment will drive women physicians off social media, which has been well-documented as a helpful career-advancement tool,” said first author Tricia Pendergrast, a second-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Women in medicine are already less likely to hold leadership positions or be first or last authors of research, so disproportionately abstaining from a platform used for collaboration and networking due to sexual harassment and personal attacks should be a cause for concern.”

Physicians should be supported online as trusted messengers, the study authors said. The study highlights the need for medical institutions to have a plan in place to respond to this type of online harassment so physicians’ careers are not negatively impacted long term.

Published on January 05, 2021

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