I’m OK, You’re OK, but We are not OK

By 2020 we were meant to be living like The Jetsons, or ‘Back to the Future’, instead the Covid19 era smacks of the totalitarianism of George Orwell’s 1984, with isolation restrictions, surveillance and monitoring in the interest of public safety.

There are two faces of social media’s input into public health. On one hand, we are afforded amazing opportunities to connect the public with medical professionals globally, as seen in the work by Physicians for Peace and Project Echo. As Dr. Narcin says, “Growth of telemedicine has allowed expertise to travel to the patient” (Thomson 2016). In the US, ‘telehealth’ has reduced medical costs for many, and in Australia, the numbers of people accessing ‘digital health’ and Health Professional Online Services has soared, especially during Covid19.

The collective health care knowledge made available through ‘patient advocate’ groups on social media has enormous benefits, where patients share their experiences and medical findings, as championed by Dave deBronkart known as ‘ePatient Dave’, whose life was saved by online communities (deBronkart 2011). McCosker says public expression of personal health experiences enables support and non-institutional management of serious illness (McCosker 2013).

Meet ePatient Dave: ‘Patients making health care better”

RUOK? has been one of the biggest public health campaigns with the spotlight on mental health conversations. RUOK? focusses on educating the public to check in with each other and how to help with resources. The campaign has raised awareness to such a level that anyone struggling and seeking help would only have to say “I’m not OK” to be understood.

‘A Conversation could change a Life’. Image by RUOK?

In the neutral zone, social media may only be another “mechanism by public health organisations and practitioners for mass information dissemination rather than engaging audiences in true multi-way conversations and interactions” (Heldman, Schindelar & Wearer 2014). As ‘just another advertising platform’, public health campaigns have been known to go seriously wrong, resulting in the opposite to intended effects, such as Stoner Sloth, Meth: We’re On It, and Go Smoke Free: Stay Pretty. This is balanced with successful campaigns that educated us to slip, slop, slap, to ‘buckle up: it’s the law’ , get your hand off it, and avoid drink-driving ‘RBT means you need a Plan B’. Awareness-raising #movember and #knowyourlemons campaigns became globally viral.

On the other hand, social media affords proliferating misinformation through sharing fake news, false memes and conspiracy theories. The darker ‘tin hat’ side demonstrates that the public cannot be indiscriminately trusted to share health information. The fear and threat of loss-of-control leads to the reality of that loss. Fact-checks have become a way of life, with outlets such as SciencePolitifact, and FactCheck. The mass spread of theories surrounding Covid19 has increased surveillance of public information via platform censorship. Facebook and YouTube are working overtime to pull down false information. If the public don’t wise-up, digital citizens may find themselves in digital gaol. It’s possible the ‘thought police’ have arrived.

‘Understandascope’ Image courtesy of Michael Leunig

MDA2009 Assignment 1C Public health campaigns and communities


deBronkart, D 2011, ‘Meet ePatient Dave’, TEDTalks, viewed 19 May 2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=oTxvic-NnAM&feature=emb_logo&gt;

Heldman, A & Schindelar, J & Wearer, J 2014, Social Media Engagement and Public Health Communication: Implications for Public Health Organizations Being Truly “Social”, Public Health Reviews Vol 35, no1, viewed 21 May 2020, https://link-springer-com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/content/pdf/10.1007/BF03391698.pdf

Howard, A 2018,’10 effective public health social media campaigns’, Strategic Social Media Lab, viewed 19 May 2020, <https://strategicsocialmedialab.com/10-effective-public-health-social-media-campaigns/&gt;

McCosker, A & Darcy, R 2013 ‘Living With Cancer: Affective Labour, Self-Expression and the Utility of Blogs”, Information,Communication & Society 16(8), 1266-85

Thompson, S 2016, ‘How social media is transforming medical care in the developing world’, Fast Company, viewed 19 May 2020, <https://www.fastcompany.com/3057869/how-social-media-is-transforming-medical-care-in-the-developing-world&gt;


A Conversation could change a Life: RUOK? <https://www.ruok.org.au/join-r-u-ok-day&gt;

Leunig, M ‘Understandable’, used with permission, <https://www.leunig.com.au/works/cartoons&gt;

One thought on “I’m OK, You’re OK, but We are not OK

  1. Hi, Wendy, your post shows once again the contradictions of social media – a forum where people can communicate, share information and personal stories, and now with Covid19 access professionals (Project ECHO, Physicians for Peace) where the emphasis is on educating people, and the other end, where social media is used to spread false info, conspiracy theories, and in some cases deliberately mislead people (like false hashtags that are supposed to be fundraising, but are people taking advantage).
    It’s a tough question, about the line between free speech and the right to use social media, and how false information should be regulated. I hear this week that ‘The Trump’ is furious because Twitter have added Factcheck to some of his posts. As you say, ‘Facebook and YouTube are working overtime to pull down false information’. I came accross that too, on Forbes website – https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanholmes/2020/04/24/is-covid-19-social-medias-levelling-up-moment/#8e96c986c606 .
    Will the social media platforms decide to regulate, or will government step in? Then it raises the question of increased surveillance and censorship – how far can that go? Do they (Facebook, Twitter etc) have an obligation to alert the public to false information? I remember the issue of media literacy being raised in a discussion on DB (I also heard a high-school student ask about it on an episode of Q&A) – should Media Literacy become a compulsory subject in the school curriculum?
    Lots of questions, and I have no answers! I think despite the moaning about ‘the youth of today’, there are many smart young people who will be able to come up with answers and solutions in the future.

    Thanks for a great read, Wendy.


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