NHS warns on social media trolls during terror attacks

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NHS England has issued the guidance as a result of this year’s terrorist attacks

Guidelines to staff, terror attack victims and their families to warn them about the risks of using socal media have been issued by NHS England.

The guide cautions that internet trolls may subject victims to “vile and upsetting abuse”, as was seen after the Manchester and London terror attacks.

It also warns people to be wary of journalists, who monitor social media.

But it adds that social media can also play a positive role in helping victims and families after attacks.

For example, it points out that coverage can help people by appealing for help, getting questions answered or paying tribute to those who have been killed.

However, it warns, people may say more than they intend to when “vulnerable, upset or angry” and that the process of retelling a story can make people “relive the worst parts” of horrific events.

“Journalists’ questions can seem very intrusive, and sometimes blunt,” the guide explains, while warning that their tweets can be “seductive”.


Dan Hett, who lost his brother Martyn in the Manchester attack, said he was inundated by media attention.

“I had a couple of bad run-ins with people physically turning up at my house, my parents house and my place of work,” he told the BBC.

“It was incredibly inappropriate. We’d not even confirmed he’d died at this point, so everything was incredibly raw.”

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29 year-old Martyn Hett lost his life in the Manchester attack

It issues specific advice to younger people, cautioning: “People will use your information for their own ends and when you’re in the heat of the moment you may say more than you intend or later regret.”

Regarding trolls, the guide tells teenagers: “They can say things like you’re only doing something for money or to abuse the system and so on.

“This is incredibly hurtful – which is what the sender intends – and it will upset you, or make you angry and that’s never the best time to think about what you tell.”

Patient confidentiality

The guide warns NHS staff against “accidentally revealing something about the incident which is not already in the public domain.”

It says: “Often in terror incidents the receiving hospitals are not named in the media straight away, so don’t post that you’ve had a busy shift dealing with victims, as this will confirm something which isn’t already known.”

It reminds staff to maintain patient confidentiality and cautions them against tweeting rumours.

Prof Chris Moran, NHS England’s clinical lead for trauma, said social media helped doctors respond in the aftermath of the Manchester attack.

“Staff in Manchester were alerted quickly and got to their hospitals before a major incident was even declared,” he said.

“This real-time reporting helped NHS staff anticipate injuries, numbers of casualties and what they would be dealing with.”

But he added: “The flip side to the coin is that misinformation on social media spreads fast and can cause lots of problems, including increased anxiety for patients, families and staff.”

This occurred following Manchester when fake images and rumours circulated online.

Mr Hett welcomes the guidelines: “Overall I’m very much in favour of clear guidance being put in place for people, but to be honest I think some basic decency should really cover most of it.”

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