Anonymity : a little bit too much fun? Damian Roland

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Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 16.12.47As preparation for a social media debate at the 2013 College of Emergency Medicine conference the twitter account @SoMeSucks was created. The idea was to raise awareness of some of the difficulties of social media in medicine and provide resources and arguments for the motion, “I believe that my use of FOAM will, through influencing my learning, ultimately improve patient care”.

The GMC have recently released guidance on the doctors use of social media and while they certainly did not suggest  the outright banning of anonymity (as many of those on social media believed) they were clear they hoped most doctors would be open about their identities. @SoMeSucks is an anonymous account and we felt this would encourage interaction and did not feel we were using it to confuse patients or bring the profession into disrepute. However, as an avid tweeter myself  I didn’t expect some of the unintended consequences of being anonymous and it proved to be an extremely valuable learning experience. Here are some reflections:

1)     Opinions are formed (very quickly) on your twitter handle. Ours was decidedly provocative but within hours (and essentially without saying anything) judgements were being formed.

The pause for thought here is that people, although you get to know very well despite never meeting them, people can only judge you by the information available to them i.e the tone of your initial tweets and the information on your bio. Worth a thought – how would you perceive your tweets based on your bio alone?

2)     Being anonymous does frustrate people (although not perhaps as many as expected!). In the FOAMed community there is a strong feeling though those engaged should be clear about who they are.

3)     The temptation to say things you wouldn’t normally say is pretty strong! This was difficult to really evidence in a tweet but I can honestly say the protection of anonymity can be fairly emboldening. The consequences of this are unlikely to be helpful in the long term regardless of the short win of feeling empowered.

4)     Not quite related to anonymity but it is worth mentioning it does take a lot of effort to produce engagement via twitter. Even with a provocative remit and targeting of some key names in #FOAMed intermittent bursts of tweets failed to capture peoples attention and conversations often ran dry. This is very different from some of the large chains of conversations that often spring up about specific clinical dilemmas between members of the FOAMed community

@SoMeSucks is not hugely active at the moment although it does occasionally comment and still gets a follower or two every week. Although initially fun being ‘someone’ else didn’t sit particularly comfortably with me in the long run. This is partly because I do have another twitter account and being pulled two ways decreased the already limited time I had available. Most importantly though I think it was down to the fact that it is quite difficult not to be yourself for a protracted period of time. Is there harm in anonymity, I am not sure there is. Is it fun though? In my experience I’m not sure either.

Damian Roland

Cite this article as: damian roland, "Anonymity : a little bit too much fun? Damian Roland," in St.Emlyn's, January 3, 2014,

3 thoughts on “Anonymity : a little bit too much fun? Damian Roland”

  1. Interesting. I was nervous about interacting with SoMeSucks – fear of a diatribe. But I do think anonymity has a role – whistleblowing, venting (think Dr Rant) or where employer may penalise for voicing non-Approved content…

  2. I think that sometimes anonymity can be powerful. Allows people to say the things that they might not say in person, or IRL, or with the names attributed. It lets us into the underpinning problems around professionalism, frustration, sadness.

    I think that we should consider welcoming those who are willing to speak up in any fashion to speak up. And treat them with the same respect we have for anyone else.

    @SoMeSucks account at times was a bit frustrating to deal with… not because of the anonymity, but at times because of weird/aberrant behaviour, but I foresee that was because you were ‘impersonating’ someone who was anonymous, rather than actually being someone who felt it important to be anonymous?

    @SkepticalScapel is an example of someone who is anonymous, contributes and yet maintains anonymity.

    I think it is 100% possible to do it all… anonymously.

Thanks so much for following. Viva la #FOAMed

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