Sensationalist Social Media Usage by Doctors and Dentists During Covid-19

Law, Richard, Kanagasingam, Shalini and Choong, Kartina Aisha orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9407-1771 (2021) Sensationalist Social Media Usage by Doctors and Dentists During Covid-19. Digital Health, 7 .

[thumbnail of Version of Record]
PDF (Version of Record) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.


Official URL:


Many doctors and dentists took to social media to raise alarm and/or express professional opinion, dissatisfaction, anger and/or incredulity associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. Although most of these social media posts involved practitioners from abroad, this article explores whether they would attract fitness to practise investigations had they been posted by UK-based medical and dental practitioners. In particular, it asks whether such conduct comes into conflict with the existing professional standards issued by the General Medical Council (GMC) and the General Dental Council (GDC). It questions also whether those guidelines should be updated and/or further clarified in view of the extraordinary circumstances posed by the pandemic.

An exploratory study was conducted using sensationalist pandemic-related social media posts by doctors and dentists discovered during the first half of 2020 (n=11). The contents were analysed qualitatively using documentary analysis using coding terms based on the professional standards on social media published by both the GMC and the GDC. The codes generated common and recurring themes that were used to structure discussion.

This study provides a partial insight as to the likely motivations of doctors and dentists to use social media in a manner that may not necessarily lend well to the professional standards expected. In a majority of instances, doctors and dentists who posted social media material with a sensationalist outlook tended to focus on single-issue campaigns pertaining to specific aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic. These issues included controversial commentary on acute shortages of personal protective equipment and attendant occupational risks to clinical staff to Covid-19 infection; criticisms directed towards regulatory bodies in the handling of the pandemic; and professional advice to the general public which was later found to be inaccurate.

Social media offer opportunities for healthcare professionals to play a constructive role in raising awareness, disseminating information, and promoting solidarity in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, doctors and dentists must carefully consider the ethical and professional pitfalls involved in sensationalist social media posts. The GMC and the GDC should, at the same time, regularly update and clarify their social media guidance in response to major global events like a pandemic as well as advances in social media technology.

Repository Staff Only: item control page