Coronavirus Pandemic

1 in 4 Doctors Attacked, Harassed on Social Media: Chicago Universities' Study

The findings highlight the intensity of online harassment, which the authors stated has intensified since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

NBC 5 News

Many physicians have reported being sexually harassed and personally attacked on social media platforms on the basis of their religion, race or medical recommendations, a new joint study from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago revealed.

While the data were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings highlight the intensity of online harassment, which the authors stated has intensified since the crisis.

According to a news release, the study found one in four physicians reported being personally attacked on social media, including being barraged by negative reviews, receiving coordinated harassment and threats at work and having personal information shared publicly.

“If anything, our data is likely an underestimate of the true extent of attacks and harassment post-pandemic since so many doctors started to advocate for public health measures during the pandemic and have been met with an increasingly polarized populace emboldened by leadership that devalues science and fact,” said senior and corresponding author Dr. Vineet Arora, assistant dean for scholarship and discovery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

Women were disproportionately affected by personal attacks and sexual harassment, the study revealed, as one in six women physicians reported being sexually harassed on social media. 

“Women in medicine are already less likely to hold leadership positions or be first or last authors of research, so disproportionately abstaining from a platform used for collaboration and networking due to sexual harassment and personal attacks should be a cause for concern," stated author Tricia Pendergrast, a second-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study is the first to describe physician experiences with online harassment, the news release stated.

To help diffuse attacks against physicians, Arora co-founded the Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team, which brings together healthcare workers to educate and advocate for evidence-based solutions on social media.

“It feels much easier to advocate on social media as part of a group,” the doctor said. “The nice thing is that on #medtwitter, you are not alone. There are many who will come to your aid. And together, we not only have a louder voice but we can support each other though this stressful time.”

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