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The Legal Guardian
by David Givot

Why EMS shouldn't fight Facebook

Try to empower providers to share positively rather than trying to frighten them into submission

By David Givot

I love Facebook — it has got to be the greatest invention since caller-ID came along and we could screen calls without fabricating elaborate lies.

With Facebook, you can keep in touch with all the people you don’t want to keep in touch with, without actually keeping in touch with them. Thanks to Facebook, I can wish you a happy birthday without calling and going through the obligatory “…so when will I see you?”

Thanks to Facebook, I know what’s going on now, so there’s no need to catch up — thus no need to make dinner plans or go out for drinks; no awkward pauses or uncomfortable silence. Facebook brings us together by keeping us apart.  Information is passed literally at the speed of light and has no place to hide.

The upside: Humans communicate better than ever; keeping the ones we (actually) love close, no matter where they are, has never been easier.

The downside: Social media has changed the way the world looks at itself…and, frighteningly, the way the world reacts to what it thinks it sees. Never in our history have we been so quick to judge and so fast to react, yet so slow to try to find the truth before any real damage is done.

Like every other corner of the human experience, EMS enjoys the countless benefits of social media and faces the same potential disasters. So how do we manage it? How do we utilize it and respect it at the same time? How do we avoid crossing the line when the line won’t stop moving? And what does the Law have to say about it?

Manage it
In many ways, an agency or department trying to manage social media can be like trying to manage fog; it’s everywhere at the same time and can be virtually impossible to see through. Nevertheless you have to get through it because if you stop where you are, you are likely to get squashed.

High-beams and bright lights only make the fog seem thicker and harder to see through. The same is true of social media. The more (negative) attention it gets, the more difficult it will be to manage improvement because the issues will be harder to see through all the noise.

As an agency or department, see what happens when you turn all the lights off; when you take the negative attention off of social media. Instead of issuing policies that limit or regulate the use of social media, which gives rise to numerous potential constitutional problems, try promoting the use of social media for practical and positive purposes.

What would happen if an agency rewarded employees for sharing success stories and commending other providers rather than enacting draconian policies intended to ignore the medium as if doing so will make it go away?

Imagine, frontline providers sharing pride in themselves and each other in a place where the whole world could see. Imagine a supervisor praising a provider in a public and highly visible forum. What effect would social media used that way have on morale AND on community relations? What if the community could “like” their neighborhood providers on Facebook or “follow” the agency on twitter? Imagine the possibilities.

Use it, respect it
As you can see, I am an advocate of using social media to make our respective corners of the world better. Nevertheless, like the ocean, you can love it all you want, but you must respect it because it can quickly end your life – or your livelihood at least.

As a child, back in the early & mid 70s, I lived just blocks from the beach. On hot days my friends and I would walk down — no parents or adults, just us — and stay in the water for hours; getting pummeled by waves and bounced around like errant socks in a washing machine.

We never gave the danger of the ocean a second thought…and we survived just fine. Looking back, I am sure we survived without a scratch because we knew how to swim.

But more importantly, we knew our limits; we knew to tuck and roll with the wave rather than fight against it; we knew to swim with the rip-tides, instead of against them; we knew where the rocks were and how to avoid them, etc.

Managing social media in your agency is no different. When you understand the perils and pitfalls, they become easy to avoid.

For example, try to empower providers to share positively rather than trying to frighten them into submission. When a group, such as frontline EMS providers, has an understanding of what is and is not acceptable — and why — they are far more likely to participate actively, positively and safely.

On the other hand, if you simply issue negative policies, laced with threats of grave penalties, that tell providers what they can’t do, they will be far more likely to resist because it will feel and seem like you have taken something from them.

If they resist by using social media to air their dirty laundry, there is no penalty an agency can impose that will undo the damage.

About the author

David Givot, Esq., graduated from the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care (formerly DFH) in June 1989 and spent most of the next decade working as a Paramedic responding to 911 in Glendale, CA, with the (then BLS only) fire department. By the end of 1998, he was traveling around the country working with distressed EMS agencies teaching improved field provider performance through better communication and leadership practices. David then moved into the position of director of operations for the largest ambulance provider in the Maryland. Now, back in Los Angeles, he has earned his law degree and is a practicing Defense Attorney still looking to the future of EMS. In addition to defending EMS Providers, both on the job and off, he has created TheLegalGuardian.com as a vital step toward improving the state of EMS through information and education designed to protect EMS professionals - and agencies - nationwide. David can be contacted via e-mail at david.givot@ems1.com.
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