The escalation of online harassment and threats of violence targeting physicians and other health workers has the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) calling on the federal government to follow through on its commitment to protect health workers and for social media companies to take action to address these issues on their platforms.
“During the pandemic, health workers have shared scientific knowledge, advanced evidence-based positions and advocated for the public’s health and wellness on social media. We should be celebrating these voices, but instead, they are at risk of being silenced by harmful, hateful and bullying behaviour,” says CMA President Dr. Katharine Smart.
In response to the Prime Minister’s commitment to make it an offence to intimidate or threaten any health worker, the CMA urges the federal government to accelerate establishing a new offence in the Criminal Code of Canada that addresses threats, violence, harassment and intimidation of health care workers and anyone seeking health care treatment, both in-person and online, including on social media platforms.
In addition, the CMA is contacting Twitter, Meta (Facebook/Instagram), Alphabet (YouTube), Microsoft (LinkedIn) and TikTok to collaborate on the development of an action plan to stop online harassment and personal threats against health care professionals.
The CMA is actively working to stop the attacks on physicians and other health care workers on social media. Legislative measures, public mobilization and responsible management of the platforms are some of the actions required to create a safe environment and protect health professionals.
“We cannot let the negative actions of a few become an acceptable standard in our lives. Medical professionals – and quite frankly, society – deserve better,” says Dr. Smart.
A study released by JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2021 suggests nearly one-quarter of physicians surveyed reported being personally attacked on social media in 2019. Those who experienced harassment consistently reported emotional distress and fear. The study also showed a disproportionate number of women are targets of online harassment.
“The health workforce is already facing unprecedented levels of burnout and exhaustion because of the pandemic. No one should also be subjected to threats and intimidation on the job. As Canadians, we must call for better treatment of health workers and demand a safer environment for them to speak out. Their voices are needed,” adds Dr. Smart.