U.S. study finds 1 in 4 doctors attacked, harassed on social media


By Xu Jing
  • World
  • Wednesday, 06 Jan 2021

CHICAGO, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) -- A study from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago found many physicians report being sexually harassed and personally attacked on social media on the basis of their religion, race or medical recommendations.

The participants in the study completed a survey the study authors sent via traceable links on Twitter between Feb. 6 and March 20, 2019. The survey asked respondents to answer two questions with yes or no: had they ever personally been targeted or attacked on social media and had they ever been sexually harassed on social media. An optional text box was provided for description of such incidents. Of the 1,103 times the survey was viewed, 464 participants, or 42.1 percent, who self-identified as U.S. physicians completed the survey.

The study found one in four physicians report being personally attacked on social media, including being barraged by negative reviews, receiving coordinated harassment and threats at work, and having their personal information shared publicly. Some attacks were particularly disturbing, such as threats of rape and death.

Women were disproportionately affected by personal attacks and sexual harassment, with one in six women physicians reporting being sexually harassed on social media.

"We worry this emotionally distressing environment will drive women physicians off social media, which has been well-documented as a helpful career-advancement tool," said first author Tricia Pendergrast, a second-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Women in medicine are already less likely to hold leadership positions or be first or last authors of research, so disproportionately abstaining from a platform used for collaboration and networking due to sexual harassment and personal attacks should be a cause for concern."

Physicians should be supported online as trusted messengers, the study authors said. The study highlights the need for medical institutions to have a plan in place to respond to this type of online harassment so physicians' careers aren't negatively impacted long term.

The study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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