Healthy Workforce

The Social Media Trap

Don’t let the temptation of likes and clicks sink your career

Illustration of someone typing on a computer that has Facebook on it with a giant like button

You’re the manager on a 22-bed urology unit. As soon as you arrive, one of your employees rushes into your office and exclaims, “Did you see what Pam posted on Facebook?” With a sinking feeling, you investigate and find that Pam, another of your nurses, posted sarcastic remarks on Facebook about your new nurses, saying that one of them “must have gotten his license in a Cracker Jack box” and that she feels sorry for any patient assigned to one of these “baby” nurses. T

To make matters worse, Pam referred to your organization by name, leaving no doubt about where she works. This isn’t the first time Pam has acted out on social media, and now you’ll have to do something about it.


Social media platforms have long been popular forums for bad behavior. Quite a few nurses have been disciplined or fired for inappropriate social media posts, with some cases even making the national news. More recently, the pandemic brought about an explosion of cruel, unprofessional online behavior, even among people who ought to know better.

It’s not hard to see why: COVID-19 forced us to forego many of our usual opportunities to vent about work to trusted friends who won’t broadcast our frustrations to the entire world. Unfortunately, griping and grousing that might be harmless in a private, offline conversation can quickly spiral out of control on social media or virtual platforms.

A tweet or public Facebook post is hard to take back, and even private messages aren’t always so private as they seem. Those platforms also make it all too easy to spread gossip or outright lies about someone.

Don’t Be Tempted

It’s enticing to use social media to zing a coworker, boss or your organization, but be warned: Like the Sirens of Greek mythology, whose music lured nearby sailors to their deaths, being cruel or inappropriate on social media can derail your career, damage relationships and even land you in legal hot water.

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Here are a few tips for protecting yourself from the social media “Sirens”:

1. Don’t use a work computer or network to access social media.

Many organizations block access to social media sites on their networks. Even if your employer doesn’t, keep in mind that many organizations log all network activity — which means they can track the sites you access from their computers, even in the middle of the night, when nobody is watching. Don’t do it!

2. Don’t violate your organization’s social media policy.

At this point, most hospitals have a social media policy. Get a copy of that policy, read it and follow it. If you don’t, you could risk losing your job. You worked hard to become a nurse, so don’t jeopardize your success with an ill-considered social media post.

3. Don’t post while at work — even on your phone.

Not only do social media posts create a record of what you said, they’re also evidence of exactly WHEN you said it, which can get you in a load of trouble if you’re posting while on the job. Nurses have been terminated — and a few have lost their licenses — because lawyers were able to use social media posts as evidence that the nurse wasn’t paying enough attention to their patient. Don’t count on using “I was on a break” as an excuse unless you clock out for breaks.

4. Don’t post ANYTHING about a patient.

Don’t assume that not mentioning a patient’s name makes it okay to talk about them on social media. If anybody can figure out whom you’re talking about from your descriptors, you could be liable for violating HIPAA or other privacy rules.

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I once saw a post from a nurse who talked about a patient who had been admitted the night before with a gunshot wound that occurred at a particular local bar. Anyone who’d been watching the news knew exactly who the nurse was talking about. A post like that can create serious liability for your employer — and for you.

5. Don’t attack your coworkers on social media.

Lashing out at anyone online is a bad idea, but a social media platform is a terrible place to air your frustrations about your coworkers. It’s inappropriate, unprofessional and a poor way to deal with conflict. I once heard of a situation where two nurses had a “catfight” on Facebook. It was ugly. They were both terminated.

6. Don’t post anything about your organization.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read negative comments about employers. I get a knot in my stomach every time I read them. Even posting something as seemingly innocuous as “I dread going into work tonight” can be grounds for termination in some organizations, and being fired for something like that won’t make you very attractive to future employers. Also, think of it this way: Would you want your patients to read your comments about your employer? If not, don’t post them.

7. Don’t write anything bad about being a nurse.

I always say that nobody gets involved in nursing for the perks, and we all have our good and bad days. Although some days really test our commitment, social media is not the place to vent about all of the horrors of nursing. I once read a post entitled “Nursing sucks!” by a nurse who’d just had a tough day. She went on to describe why she hated being a nurse. Not good.

Posts like that might not get you in trouble (certainly not the way venting about patients or your employer will), but as a nurse, you want to represent yourself and your profession well, not tear it down in public.

It’s important to be mindful of how we use social media platforms. You can delete a post that you regret, but if it has already been shared or saved as a screenshot, the damage is done.

RENEE THOMPSON, RN, DNP, CMSRN, is the CEO and founder of the Healthy Workforce Institute. As a speaker, author and consultant, her goal is to eradicate nurse bullying and incivility.


JASMIN MORA is a Los Angeles-based illustrator. Reach her at

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