Social media is reshaping the medical industry’s abuse or, at least, the extent to which that abuse can be shared. It also provides a platform where workers can reinforce dangerous beliefs.
By Vanessa Taylor
Tyra Hunter. 1995. Dead after EMTs withdrew medical care upon realizing she was a transgender woman. Barbara Dawson. 2015. Dead from a blood clot in her lungs an hour after police forcibly removed her from a hospital where she was discharged. Dacheca Fleurimond. 2017. Dead a day after delivering twins due to a pulmonary embolism. Shalon Irving. 2017. Dead three weeks after giving birth from complications of high blood pressure.
These four names are far from a comprehensive list of Black women who have died due to anti-Blackness and (trans)misogynoir embedded within the medical industry. It takes less than twenty minutes to find their stories on Google with key phrases like: “Black woman dead discharge hospital”, “Black woman dead childbirth”, and “Black woman wrongful hospital death”.
Yet despite the ease of finding these stories, healthcare workers like Twitter user “D Rose” continue to utilize their social media channels to mock those in their care. Last week, Rose uploaded a TikTok video of herself in medical scrubs, dancing to the “fake” coughs of a patient. The caption reads: “We know when y’all are faking.”
Beneath the tweet—which has garnered over 21.1 million views—people replied with stories of doctors who refused to believe patients. One user tweeted, “Yeah great I had shortness of breath, heart palpitations, fainted multiple times, and had a seizure in the ER waiting bc the nurses thought I was faking and on something but LOL you’re so funny and relatable. ” To which Rose replied, “Thank you!”
In a thread, Rose has since said she’s worked in “mental health, alcohol, and drug rehabilitation” and that her video was not directed at anyone. She went on to add, “I absolutely will not be bullied into apologizing or deleting a video because some people disagree with me.”
It’s easy to focus on Rose because hers is the latest video of a healthcare worker showing their ass. But, the history of the medical industry’s role in oppression is well documented. You can check out #PatientsAreNotFaking for firsthand stories showing that Rose is not alone. She is instead symptomatic of a field where beliefs like Black people don’t feel pain, people with drug addictions are always faking and deserve ostracization, fat people just need to lose weight, and disability needs to be eradicated through eugenics impacts—and kills—patients today. Regularly.
What needs to be interrogated, too, is the role that social media plays because this video isn’t the first and it will not be the last. Long before Rose uploaded her original video (she’s made more), healthcare workers were violating all kinds of codes, including HIPPA, on social media. In 2015, a ProPublica report listed 35 separate cases, where elderly people were often the targets of abuse.
For example, the ProPublica report also reads that a nursing assistant photographer at a nursing home took a picture of a resident’s genitals and sent it to a friend who subsequently uploaded it on Facebook in 2012. At a separate assisted living facility, two workers shared photos and videos of nude or partially nude residents on Snapchat.
Social media is reshaping the medical industry’s abuse or, at least, the extent to which that abuse can be shared. It also provides a platform where workers can reinforce dangerous beliefs. It provides workers an opportunity to go viral by laughing at the people who they are supposed to care for. You can argue that the public nature of social media means these incidents will at least be recorded and responded to by employers, but you would need to have faith in an industry that has shown it doesn’t exist to save everybody.
And even then, the damage is done. Videos like Rose’s gives these forms of oppression new platforms and ways to grow. It gives them a new way to begin appealing to people. We’re living in a digital age and oppression will always keep up. The proliferation of documented medical abuse, or jokes about it, by healthcare workers on social media is nothing more than its newest mutation.
Vanessa Taylor is a writer based out of Philadelphia, although the Midwest will always be home. She has work in outlets such as Teen Vogue, Racked, and Catapult. Her work focuses on Black Muslim womanhood and the taboo. You can follow her across social media at @bacontribe.