Can we trust social media?

Miranda Steeples considers the importance of professional organisations in the era of social media.

Miranda Steeples considers the importance of professional organisations in the era of social media.

In today’s digital age, where information is just a click away and communities form around shared interests in the blink of an eye, it’s easy to understand why many turn to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram for guidance and camaraderie.

Dental hygiene and dental therapy are no exception, with countless online groups and pages offering tips, advice and community support. With data suggesting there were 57.10 million social media users in the United Kingdom in January 2023, people are clearly taking full advantage of what is out there, as well as adding to it themselves (Datareportal, 2023).

However, while these platforms provide undeniable convenience and immediacy, it’s crucial to recognise that the support and community found on social media cannot truly replace that of a professional organisation, such as the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT).

Expertise and integrity

It won’t come as news to you that not all information on the web is accurate, beneficial or safe. We also live in an era of fake news and misinformation, with more than half (56%) of users saying they worry about identifying the difference between what is real and fake on the internet (Reuters, 2023). This means that trusting advice from an unverified Facebook or Instagram account has the potential to be detrimental and a risk to your professional registration, while the BSDHT’s advice is backed by scientific evidence and professional experience.

Indeed, BSDHT representatives are qualified professionals who have undergone initial rigorous training, embrace continuing education, and adhere to the highest possible standards of dental practice. Alongside all that, the BSDHT’s resources, events and publications are all scrutinised to ensure the utmost quality and relevance.

Structured learning

Social media offers ad hoc learning, frequently based on trends or immediate needs. This means interactions on social media can often be fleeting and superficial. Conversely, in professional societies, members have the opportunity for deeper engagement, presenting their research or case studies, and receiving constructive feedback.

This peer-review mechanism encourages higher standards of practice and fosters a culture of continuous improvement. Embracing the significance of these elements, the BSDHT provides structured learning opportunities, such as continuing professional development (CPD) courses and journal articles, face-to-face workshops, webinars and seminars. These are meticulously designed to ensure oral health professionals remain at the forefront of the latest techniques, technologies and research.

Advocacy and representation

Meanwhile, although social media groups can rally behind causes and have done so to great effect, they are no replacement for professional organisations like the BSDHT that possess a structured framework for advocacy. With its longstanding reputation and connections, the BSDHT can represent its members at national and international levels, pushing for policy changes, advancing the profession and ensuring our members’ voices are heard.

In-person connections

While online platforms offer networking to some extent and can be very handy if you are time poor, the depth and quality of connections made through in-person meetings are incomparable. At BSDHT events, members have the chance to meet industry leaders, potential mentors and collaborators in person, forming lasting professional relationships and personal friendships.

Support and ethics

Social media provides a platform for sharing and communication, but professional societies offer a broader range of support. From legal advice to employment resources, the BSDHT caters to its members’ varied needs, ensuring they are well-equipped to tackle the challenges of their profession.

Professional organisations also uphold a code of ethics that guides members in their practice. This shared ethos fosters a sense of unity and trust among members. Even though social media groups might establish general guidelines, they lack the gravitas and enforcement mechanisms of a professional society’s ethical code.

Recognising authenticity

The bottom line is that while sharing on social media undoubtedly offers a number of benefits, it also has the potential to damage the profession as a whole, and dental hygienists and dental therapists individually. Yes, social media is a powerful tool, offering convenience and connectivity. It will, no doubt, continue to play a role in how professionals in dental hygiene and therapy interact and learn.

However, it is essential to recognise its limitations and the potential risks associated with its unregulated use. The BSDHT stands as a beacon for professionals, providing a wealth of resources, networking, advocacy and support. As we navigate the complex landscape of the digital age, let us cherish and uphold the invaluable role of professional societies, ensuring that the quality, integrity and progress of our profession remain at the forefront.

For a full list of references, email [email protected].

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. 

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