When a family learns of its child’s diagnosis with cancer, the family begins to contemplate treatment options and plan for patient care while balancing life’s regular demands. Facebook trends show that it has become increasingly popular for families to take these private cases into the public arena by posting updates on personal social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram to share updates with friends and family. While some outlets, like CaringBridge, offer password protection to a patient’s care page, some families have also decided to set up Facebook pages and websites/blogs specifically to support the pediatric patient and update family and friends. These pages often include family photos, treatment updates, travel arrangements, etc.
In theory, these public pages and updates are excellent avenues to support the family and the patient emotionally, spiritually, logistically and financially. By networking through social media, affected families can seek support and learn of new treatment opportunities and studies that could increase the odds of survival for the child. However, what aspects of privacy do these families give up by allowing their family life to be spread across various social media sites? And should these cases be treated with more care as they chronicle the journey of a minor?
In studying various Facebook pages for pediatric cancer patients, I notice a trend in that a number of a family members and friends collaborate to update the pages. And with that, there are numerous shares for various posts on said pages. Are these shares conducted by family members or family friends? And if not, is the family comfortable with the sensitive information being shared by strangers? While these well-intentioned shares could support the cause to end pediatric cancer, they could also spread private information regarding the family such as the family’s names, home address for care packages, and travel plans for treatment.
The family is mostly likely focused on the care of the child, but what considerations should be taken in updating these social media platforms? Sharing information of this nature could be cathartic to some family members, but troublesome to others, and over-sharing of information could ultimately put the family at risk. With Facebook continuing to change its privacy policies, it becomes increasingly important for each Facebook user to understand how posted information can be disseminated and who can access one’s information, whether it is meant to be shared or not.
By Erin Richardson, Graduate Student
Master of Arts in Emerging Media
Loyola University, Maryland