Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Legal and Ethical Issues regarding Social Media and Pharmacy Education

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Legal and Ethical Issues regarding Social Media and Pharmacy Education

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The popularity of new social media applications such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger has increased rapidly in recent years. Younger generations were primarily the early adopters of these technologies; however, older generations are quickly becoming part of the social media user population. (1) Facebook alone has 400 million users, with the 35 years of age and older demographic growing the fastest. (2) Due in part to the popularity of these applications, the social communication paradigm is changing from the traditional face-to-face or telephone model to one that uses a variety of Web-based social media applications. These technologies are so commonplace that they have begun to disrupt elements of our social fabric. In 2008, Duncan stated:

   The last 2 decades, in particular, have been characterized
   by exponential advances in technology, especially
   by personal access to ever more sophisticated electronic
   devices for information retrieval and communication.
   Concomitant changes in cultural mores relative
   to the use of such devices have widened the intergenerational
   gap, affecting all institutions, including law and
   education. (3)

While these disruptions have spread across society as a whole, there are some specific issues of particular relevance to professional education. Most of these issues were introduced in a review article in the Journal in 2008, (4) but subsequently, a number of lawsuits pertinent to this area have been decided. In addition, research literature and discussions at professional conferences have helped further refine many of the nebulous issues. Because this area of research is still relatively new, many students, faculty members, and administrators are not yet fully aware of the complexities thrust upon schools because of the aforementioned paradigm shift. In this article, the authors review and clarify the legal and ethical issues associated with social media use, and conclude with recommendations for pharmacy faculty members and administrators, with the goal of helping them understand this evolving area of concern and preventing potential legal entanglements.

LEGAL ISSUES

A number of basic rights arising under the US Constitution can be implicated in cases involving use of social media--freedom of speech, search and seizure issues, right to privacy, and denial of due process. A brief review of these areas may provide a foundation for discussion of the issues in the context of social media.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution creates 6 separate rights for citizens with freedom of speech among them:

   Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
   of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or
   abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the
   right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
   the Government for a redress of grievances. (5)

Freedom of speech issues only exist when governmental action is involved. In one of the leading US Supreme Court decisions in this area, the rule was laid down that student speech may be restricted only when it causes a material disruption or substantial interference with a school's operations. (6)

The Supreme Court said in the Tinker case that "... conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason--whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior--materially disrupts class work or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech." (6) This is the standard to be applied when an educational institution is alleging that a student engaged in disruptive speech that the institution would like to halt.

In the later case of Bethel School District v. Fraser, the Court ruled that a school was not violating a student's rights when it suspended a student for the use of crude language in a speech to a school assembly. …

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