Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis: Social media offer public health the potential to better communicate health messages and engage the public, yet such media, like Facebook, have both potential benefits and inherent risks. For registered health professionals, other public health practitioners and their organizations, risks to image and reputation are of concern, since Facebook facilitates the collision of personal and professional identities. Previous research shows that health practitioners are frequent users of Facebook, and some post content that could be interpreted as unprofessional (e.g., details of client interactions). In light of this, our objective was to explore attitudes towards, beliefs about, and behaviours on Facebook, among Canadian public health practitioners.
Methods: Members of eight Canadian public health organizations were sent a link to an online questionnaire. The questionnaire assessed Facebook usage factors, sharing behaviours on Facebook, personality dimensions and views about acceptable sharing online. Descriptive statistics were calculated. Fisher’s exact test was used to test the probability of agreement with posting certain types of content; odds ratios were calculated.
Results: Of 621 respondents, 480 (77%) held Facebook profiles. Facebook profile holders reported using Facebook for an average of 5.29 years (Median 5.25, SD 1.94, Range 0.17 to 10 years), and spent an average of 23 minutes per day on Facebook. Most respondents (78%) reported checking their Facebook profiles at least a few times a week. For Facebook profile holders, the odds of agreeing that it is acceptable to vent about the general public online were 1.87 times the odds of those without Facebook profiles (p = .04).
Conclusions: Facebook offers an opportunity for public health to share intended and valuable public health messages, however a key feature of Facebook is the potential for collision between personal and professional lives.
Implications for research and/or practice: Facebook offers an opportunity for public health to share intended and valuable public health messages, however a key feature of Facebook is the potential for collision between personal and professional lives. The findings of this study may serve as a basis for social media training that allows public health practitioners and organizations to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential risks associated with social networking.