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Decision making
Comments on the dilemma in the April issue: ‘Social media menace?’
  1. Siobhan Mullan


The dilemma in the April issue concerned a student completing extramural studies at an emergency centre who had posted a photo of himself with a dog in recovery with the caption, ‘Me with a dog recovering from a botched operation’ on Facebook (In Practice, April 2011, volume 33, pages 190–191). The dog had originally been treated for wound dehiscence secondary to self trauma after an enterotomy was performed by a vet in general practice. The client recognised her dog on Facebook and demanded a refund for the initial surgery. Anne Fawcett and John Baguley commented that there were many stakeholders in this scenario. The post reflected badly on both the original vet and the emergency centre, while the university was concerned about its relationship with the profession and the reputation of its students. A possible way forward would be for the student to be counselled on professionalism and online behaviour and the implications of his actions explained. A written apology to the client, the primary vet, the university and the emergency centre might be the most effective way for the student to show their remorse. Senior emergency centre and university staff should meet with the primary vet and client to explain that the complication was due to self trauma rather than negligence of the primary vet, and emphasise the fact that the online posting was incorrect and unauthorised.

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Siobhan Mullan is based at the University of Bristol. She holds the RCVS diploma in animal welfare science, ethics and law.

Siobhan Mullan comments: This case demonstrates the unpredicted and far-reaching consequences that a relatively mild post on a social media site can have. Despite a plethora of sage advice, starting in schools, many people are unable to prevent themselves getting into a sticky situation, and professionals, in particular, are increasingly advised against extensive social networking. In order to make their own decisions, most people will probably weigh up the harms and benefits of social networking. The problem is that the benefitsare immediate and easy to assess, while the serious harms are rare, will not happen to everyone, and are only just coming to light now.

Collation of these harms and advice on how to avoid them may help us make better informed choices about the use of social media. It is also difficult to weigh up the possible consequences of every single interaction, so some basic rules to operate by may make life easier in practice. I personally like the advice that if you would not be happy to see your post or picture on the front page of a national newspaper, it probably shouldn't go up – but I realise that might make social networking a somewhat less colourful experience!

Have you faced a dilemma that you would like considered in a future instalment of Everyday Ethics? If so, e-mail a brief outline to inpractice{at}


THIS series gives readers the opportunity to consider and contribute to discussion of some of the ethical dilemmas that might arise in veterinary practice. Each month, a case scenario is presented, followed by discussion of some of the issues involved. In addition, a possible way forward is suggested; however, there is rarely a cut-anddried answer in such cases, and readers may wish to suggest an alternative approach. This month's dilemma, ‘Pet insurance problem’, is presented and discussed by Glen Cousquer. Readers with comments to contribute are invited to send them as soon as possible, so that they can be considered for publication in the next issue. Discussion of the dilemma ‘Social media menace?’, which was published in the April issue of In Practice, appears on page 238.

The series is being coordinated by Siobhan Mullan, of the University of Bristol. It is hoped it will provide a framework that will help practices find solutions when facing similar dilemmas.

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