There seem to be several overlapping issues in the discussion over this article:
The design of the study was clearly problematic and the definitions they used for unprofessional behaviors were poorly conceived. They were right to retract it.
Social media postings that violate HIPAA do occur, however, and shouldn’t be condoned.
Many of the activities labeled as “unprofessional” in the article fall into a more nebulous category. Even so, I think people who (by virtue of their profession) are placed in a position of trust, should give careful consideration to what they post publicly or semi publicly (to friends and followers). For example,sipping drinks in swimwear seems fine but mental health professionals conducting psychotherapy with patients may want to avoid even those kinds of postings.
Hateful screeds, which seem to be increasing in frequency on social media, are another matter. As a patient, I would be quite upset if one of my treating physicians were posting demeaning or derogatory comments about individuals or groups of individuals based on race, ethnicity, religion, appearance, gender, sexuality, etc. or saying that supporters of a particular political party or candidate don’t deserve to live.
Similarly, it’s distressing to see these sorts of things written by colleagues, knowing that you have to work alongside them every day and in some cases be supervised by them. One of the physicians in my dept posted a whole host of anti-Semitic materials on his Facebook page a number of years ago. He was Facebook friends with many of the staff including some in the division that he was directing. After those individuals saw the postings, word spread throughout the department. The postings were publicly available and would also have been visible to any patients. Since he was directing an emergency service, patients would have had little recourse if they were assigned to be seen by him. Several people working in his division left after this, distressed by his attitudes. Human Resources did nothing and he’s now in a different higher paid position, which leads some of us to wonder if the department chair holds similar views. Even after many years, I have difficulty interacting with him and I doubt that he even knows that I’m Jewish. Obviously, people who harbor such views will continue to have them, whether they post them on social media or not. But posting things publicly that one (hopefully) wouldn’t blur out in a meeting, still has consequences.
For these reasons, I think it’s useful to raise physician awareness of the potential pitfalls of their social media postings. But this article just went about doing it in a poor way.