November 01, 2017

Social Media isn’t the Real World

This is an interesting guest post that  the UK based website GDPUK published a few weeks ago. I thought that it was very good. The post  is about problems with social media.  It was written by Simon Thackeray, who is a general dental practitioner.  I thought that it was very relevant to orthodontics and they gave me permission to publish it here.

Simon is originally from Yorkshire, North of England, where it is always Winter!

orthodontic winterSocial media and dentistry

No one can have missed the inexorable rise in the use of social media for virtually every kind of interaction we experience.

Dentistry has not been slow to embrace this revolution. There is no doubt that it is helpful as a mechanism of disseminating information, sharing new techniques, and even asking advice about a case.  Accessing social media though our smartphones is perhaps the most common application of this media. Indeed, it is thought that phones are now become part of the way in which we experience life and how we form our memories. Certainly, creating a social media scrapbook to share with other people may be something that  helps us  look back on events, perhaps differently to how we did in the past.

Dangers of social media

But I worry that some people don’t sufficiently understand the dangers of social media. I’ve written about this before on this blog.  Most  of what I said then still holds true. But there may be people who measure their own lives against the social media “benchmark”.

There is a relatively new Facebook group called ‘Mental Dental’. This  was set up to help dentists with some of the challenging mental health issues that can occur in our profession. Personally as someone who has suffered mental health issues in the past, I think it’s a pretty crass title, but the ethos of the group is actually pretty good.  It may be that having this type of forum is beneficial to those wanting to ask advice, or just offload anonymously. Nevertheless, there are some quite worrying threads that appear from time to time.

The danger of comparisons with other dentists who post on social media

My attention was caught by one of the recent threads.  This was about a practitioner who felt that they were unsuccessful in comparison to the other dentists who were posting their personal and professional successes.  Their concern was so great that they were considering leaving the profession. There has always been a degree of ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ in all aspects of our lives. Indeed, until we becomes satisfied with ourselves as a person, there might always be a tendency for us to search for success via materialistic gains. However, what struck me in this case was the sheer despair this person was feeling, as a result of what some people post on social media.

Social media to this person had become the real world. They saw the posts of amazing composites, perfect implants, fast cars, pictures of first class seats and exotic holidays as the absolute reality of other peoples lives. The superficiality of such posts may be obvious to many, but not to those who may already be suffering from a change in their perception of the world due to the mental health issues that appear to be quite common in our profession. It might not be so easy to ignore this type post when someone is feeling depressed by the profession. Consequently,  the damage can be potentially serious.

The “perfect World” of dental social media

There seems to be a lack of humility generally on social media that is behind these types of posts. Whilst it is everyone’s right to post what they want and when they want,  the ‘Look at Me aren’t I great’, or the so-called ‘Humble brag’ type of posts sometimes serve only to  make other people feel negatively toward the poster, or more worryingly, negative towards themselves. Importantly, there is usually no background to a social media post. As a result,  we lose the context.  Does the poster EVER have a bad day? Do they Ever have things go wrong in Clinic? Have they ever worried about their Health/Finances etc.? Given the tone of many of the posts we see, the answer to all the above appears to be no.

It’s important then to keep in mind that social media is NOT necessarily the truth.  It is vitally important that we should all keep in touch with the real world around us. Social media is here to stay, but it needs taking with a large pinch of salt at times.

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Have your say!

  1. As Adam Curtis would aptly term this state as one of “Hypernormaization”- where we avoid confronting about issues we face in the real world and create an , fake world on social media to satiate our unmet fantasies.

  2. I am starting to get orthodontic problems with FB etc. In that girls (usually but not exclusively) are comparing themselves, when near to their orthodontic finish time, to some diva on FB or in a magazine. They post and receive endless “selfies” in a massive fit of narcissism and then they and sometimes their parents decline my offer to remove the appliances, because “this tooth isn`t level with that one”. Their FB “friends” look at enlarged photos of two central incisors and pick the DAYLIGHTS out of one another. It doesn`t seem to matter how much you try to “manage expectations”, near treatment end the prima donna comes out. Now, it could be that I am a crap orthodontic practitioner (shut up Simon Thackeray) but really, I`m ok.

  3. One of the best posts ever.

    Kevin: Looking forward to seeing you at Harvard in May.

  4. This is an excellent posting and should give all of use pause about the misinformation that can appear any time that we use the internet.

    I suggest reading an article that is related to Dr. Thackeray’s posting by Mr. George Will, considered by many in the USA to be the dean of the American Intellectual conservative movement:

  5. Great post. I have recently started an Instagram account, with before and afters, cases I’ve struggled with and cases that have gone wrong- decal for example.( and of course holiday/daughter/ food/sunshine pictures so whoever follows me knows I’m real- teeth can get somewhat boring!!)
    It’s for patients and dentists to see what can be achieved with orthodontics. I hope it’s informative, but also realistic- I definitely don’t post my best cases only, in fact most of them have got some flaw! I have started to critique my cases more now they are in the public domain, but I’ve also become more proud of my job and hopefully show the human side of that excitement of debond day.
    Surely we all know that posting perfect cases only cannot be real, and perhaps even those patients haven’t consented for those photos to be posted to social media?!

  6. Kevin, thank you for keeping it real! I hope every recent or soon to be be graduate reads this posts and realizes that social media isn’t true life.

  7. It is quite sad that some people, especially the younger generation do tend to “measure” dentists/orthodontists/doctors by the number of followers they have on instagram, the ratings online or by how popular they are on the social media – which is as you have perfectly said, inaccurate and just a superficial view of everything. This creates pressure on other not-so active social media users, but really, as long as you are good, people will know about you, regardless, however I have to agree social media plays a powerful influence on the younger generation, it is sad but true. Another issue is that some practitioners who seem to be active on social media seem to lack e-professionalism. Hopefully your post will help educate both the dentist and public more on this issue.

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