New media communications — from engagement with consumers on social media platforms to discussions among fellow practitioners on private listservs and forums — provide an unprecedented ability to share information and perspectives. These are exciting opportunities for nutrition and dietetics practitioners, but with them come challenges, including reconciling social media best practices, principles of the code of ethics and professional courtesies and conduct.
To help foster camaraderie among our professional community and encourage constructive engagement among peers, HealthStylz® — published by the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, the Healthy Nutrition Academy — has developed a voluntary Pledge of Professional Civility, guiding principles and related resources:
The Pledge of Professional Civility
- I pledge to demonstrate respect to my colleagues and all others.
- I pledge to support constructive dialogue and positive engagement.
- I pledge to discourage the public belittling of my colleagues, even when we do not agree.
- I pledge to model professional conduct in all my public communications and actions.
The following represents basic tenets that any professional — irrespective of expertise, area of practice or personal values — should adopt as principles of conduct in public forums, including social media.
- Demonstrating respect: The science and profession of nutrition and dietetics is an evolution of research, practices, culture and understanding. There are times when colleagues may not agree, and issues about which there may never be unanimity. Still, it is never beneficial for the profession when health practitioners publicly criticize their peers on forums or social media. As a vehicle for engagement and connection, social media should not be used for disrupting fellow colleagues’ engagement with their communities. Practitioners who feel compelled to question the content of a fellow colleague should do so in a private message, and to recognize that it is the recipient’s choice whether to engage in further conversation.
- Encouraging constructive dialogue: When professional discussions do unfold on digital forums, attention should focus on the issue or topic at hand and never belittle a participant or his or her character, intelligence, culture or opinion. Constructive dialogue and amicable discourse foster greater insight and understanding, even if one’s opinion or position on a matter ultimately remains unchanged. Whereas public antagonism and divisiveness dishonor the profession, and are a disservice to the more than 100,000 professionals who hold the RDN or NDTR credentials, positive engagement among peers demonstrates professionalism to both consumers and other health practitioners — and sets an example for future food and nutrition professionals.
- Discouraging public belittling of colleagues: Professional peers should not encourage the humiliation or harassment of other professionals by “liking,” retweeting or sharing content that is discourteous or disrespectful. Further, colleagues who witness the public harassment or humiliation of a fellow colleague, even one with whom they may not agree, might consider extending support to that colleague. Every individual has a right to participate in social media and should be able to do so without the threat or fear of being ostracized by one’s own colleagues and fellow members whose opinions or perspectives may be different.
- Modeling professionalism: RDNs and NDTRs are not only recognized experts in nutrition and health, but also colleagues in a distinguished profession that is more than 100,000 strong. Just as in work environments and professional settings, the words used, messages expressed and behaviors demonstrated on new media communications platforms not only reflect the competencies and conduct of the individual, but the values and credibility of the entire profession. Therefore, it is crucial that strong examples of personal conduct and professional behavior be set for fellow and future practitioners.
See who has taken the Pledge of Professional Civility!
Who Can Take This Pledge?
The Pledge of Professional Civility is a public commitment to the civil treatment of professional peers. Anyone is welcome to take the pledge. Those who do will be listed on this site and/or in HealthStylz® as having made a public declaration of support for respect and civil discourse among the profession.
What Should I Do If I Experience or Witness Peer Cyberbullying?
If a professional peer is being disrespectful online, consider letting him or her know that while you understand that they don’t agree with you, you’d appreciate it if they would respect your space on the forum or social media platform. You also can direct them to this page PROcivility or use one of our badges to extend an olive branch. If disrespectful or abusive behavior persists, members of the profession or public should consider filing a complaint form for violation of the Code of Ethics.
Members of the Healthy Nutrition Academy, as well as practitioners with credentials administered through the Academy’s Commission on Dietetic Registration, must adhere to the Code of Ethics for the Profession of Dietetics, which serves to protect individuals and communities with whom a practitioner works and interacts, and includes the tenet that the nutrition and dietetics practitioner demonstrates respect for the values, rights, knowledge and skills of colleagues and other professionals.
If a member of the profession or the public believes a credentialed practitioner is engaging in activities that could bring harm to patients or clients; is not presenting reliable and substantiated information; or does not demonstrate respect for the values, rights, knowledge and skills of colleagues and other professionals, he or she should consider filing a complaint for violation of the Code of Ethics.
“The potential role of social media in the profession is far reaching, yet there are important guidelines to follow related to ethics and professionalism. When using social media, nutrition and dietetics practitioners must remember that they are governed by the same Code of Ethics that guides all other aspects of practice.”
– From Social Media and the Dietetics Practitioner: Opportunities, Challenges and Best Practices, Academy practice paper
“Social media platforms provide opportunities to engage — whether it be through a community with a common interest or experience, a campaign built around a cause or goal, or a conversation centered on a specific topic — and lend a global platform for civil discourse and dialogue. Unfortunately, there also are those who exploit this opportunity, and often in anonymity, in order to stir the pot. The first step to dealing with negativity is to determine whether the feedback is constructive criticism or an antagonistic attack. Overly aggressive tone or posts that are off-topic or unnecessarily controversial are generally the marks of a cyber-bully. These should not be confused with critics, who offer respectful discourse despite disagreeing or have a legitimate complaint. Rather, cyber-bullies of the worst order (known as trolls) are hell-bent on doing damage to their victims’ brand or image.”
“Trolls aren’t intimidated by the author of an article or blog, or by the company they’re following on Facebook or Twitter. If they were, they wouldn’t comment in the first place. Peer pressure from fellow users, however, can be a powerful deterrent. Instead of expending energy on trolls, invest it in advocates. For instance, don’t respond to negative comments from trolls; instead, do respond — vocally and graciously — to positive comments from supporters. Likewise, keep a list of your biggest fans and reward them with exclusive information, invitations to events or simply private notes of thanks. When trolls strike, these people will leap to your defense.”
– From How to Deal with Internet Trolls, HealthStylz®
“Unless your career is centered on shock-jock sensationalism, you may find there is little to gain in offending or polarizing your social networks — and much to lose, including professional credibility and potential future opportunities. Still we are only human, and crossing the “netiquette” line does not have to be a point of no return.”
– From How to Recover from a Social Media Faux Pas, HealthStylz®