Suing Social Media Into Silence?

I wrote a somewhat lengthy blog post on this topic over on the Rock Creek blog, but felt so fired up about it that I wanted to bring it to the GovLoop audience to get your opinions.

The gist of the story is this: In an attempt to protect their online reputation, doctors are now asking patients to sign waivers agreeing not to post comments about him/her online. The waivers ostensibly offer the doc some legal recourse if they discover negative online content authored by a patient who signed one.

My questions for the larger group are this: Are waivers the way to go? Should they be adopted by other industries, including government agencies? And finally, would you sign a waiver if your doctor asked you to?

I’ll answer first: No, no and no way.

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Mayra Ruiz-McPherson

no, no and no way. this is not surprising but still fascinating to me. folks are just unwilling to relinquish control to the people. they’ll attempt to stifle the voice of the people at all costs. it’s like not letting folks comment on a blog. you can’t keep peoples mouths shut, sorry. those days, in case they missed the memo … are long, long, L-O-N-G gone. thx for sharing.

Kelly O'Brien

The power of social media to upset the apple cart continues to humble me. We see it here in government and yours is another great example. Just say no.

Amy Hooker

In a way, I almost feel sorry for the docs that are doing this. In many cases, they probably aren’t very adept with social media themselves are simply don’t know any better–they’re just following the advice of Medical Justice, the firm that offers the waiver service. That being said, I’d hate to see this kind of approach being adopted in other industries and organizations, though I suspect it is–perhaps it just hasn’t been written about yet.

Ken Mac Garrigle

Students *rate* teachers and professors online I understand…. but what busy doctor is going to have time to check up on this? (Do they ‘Google’ themselves every night?)

I think this is the same as those little caveats people throw in at the end of their emails, thinking they are *protected*:

You know: “This e-mail and its attachments are confidential and solely for the intended addressee(s). Do not share or use them without xxx approval. If received in error, contact the sender and delete them.”

Won’t protect you from anything but may scare off the unaware. Same with this symbolic *signing* ceremony.

Amy Hooker

Well, the thing is Ken, I think that the folks that offer the service may also do the monitoring–and according to the original story, ‘In several instances, he [Medical Justice founder Dr. Jeffrey Segal] said, doctors have used signed waivers to get sites to remove negative comments.’

That’s not to say that a simple email request to ‘please remove this false or inflammatory item from you site’ wouldn’t have sufficed…

Ed Albetski

No, no and no way.
You ever use Trip Advisor? I usually check out hotels there before I stay in them. I ignore the one star and the five star reviews. I assume the low end reviews are from their competition and the high end ones they wrote themselves. If doctors are trying to pre-empt the online grading process, they might as well try to move the ocean a bucket of water at a time. It’s the coming thing.

Scott Horvath

First, I would definitely not sign anything like this. But I think it’s a sticky situation for either party considering issues with libel laws. Making a comment online falls within the libel laws, but there seems to be a gray area around making a comment about your doctor and service they performed, stating your opinion and whether it can seen as an opinion or as a statement that can proven true or false, etc.

Reading this Wikipedia article (and we all know that Wikipedia is always right, right? Oh wait…that might be a libel case now!) there seems to be many shades of gray. I’m no lawyer but I’m just wondering if it even NOT signing a waiver would still allow a doctor to sue a patient based upon a comment made online..especially if that doctor starts to lose business because of it.

Wikipedia article on “libel”:

Al Fullbright

People should not be allowed to waive enalienable rights. Doctors are not any different than anyone else and already have the right to protect themselves against libel.

As a person deeply involved in health issues, I expressly reserve the right to write (freedom of the press) anything about anyone. If I damage them they can sue me. Stating your position or relating true experiences or our opinions is not libel.

Telling a damaging lie is different and is libel. I wouldn’t count on waivers. If someone goes to far on one waiver, they may all be struck down by the courts. Most people who sign waivers probably dont remember them later anyway and probably would consider them trivial and unenforcable. Libel, also is a very difficult thing to prove.

This is a case of special interests setting themselves above the interests of the people.

Freedom of speech? Freedom of the press. “Possession of a right gives no guarantee of it.” – Ibsen