I’m a doctor. I’ve been a target of cyber-abuse for 6 years. Its time for our laws to change.

Yes its true. I’ve been cyber-abused for 6 years. And I’m not alone.

Daily, doctors, health care professionals and other people are being abused, bullied, harassed and defamed online. These actions are unacceptable and remain unlegislated against, placing people, our health care professionals, in vulnerable positions of harm and potential harm, every moment.

As a doctor in our training 20 years (ish) ago, most of us knew nothing about social media, because, well, it didn’t exist. However, with the rise of the internet and social media the world has become a very different place.

We are fortunate in this society that we have laws that legislate against people causing direct harm to people through for example physical abuse, which is known as assault, or other acts of violence or murder or rape for example. Such acts that bring about gross harm to people ought rightly to be legislated against.

When someone physically assaults you, it is a one-off event,  defined by time, contained by the physical contact, even though the scars both physical and emotional can live for sometime until they are healed. Of course, assaults can be repeated, but the period of each assault is limited by time of physical contact and the physical presence of the person assaulting you.

However, with the unregulated and unlegislated internet, someone can abuse you online and the abuse is there 24 hours a day, in the work place, in your home, in your car, in the bathroom, everywhere, every moment of the day. There is nowhere you can go to escape the abuse as it is permanently there, for all to see, not just you. And as we know, abuse is there to incite others to further abuse and bring about harm, so it makes sense to consider that cyber-abuse is the modern day plague of public health. It is permanent 24/7 abuse, and you never know where the blow is going to come from or when.

At present in our unregulated internet anyone, anywhere, can write whatever they want about you, under the cover of anonymity, and even if they are not anonymous they can still write whatever they want about you as there is zero accountability for abusive actions online.

Despite the fact that most of us spend practically 24 hours online and much of our lives are online and we go online to research things, after 10 years of ‘social’ media, we still do not have appropriate legislation to prevent harm coming to people from the online environment.

And in fact, there are those in society who fight against such changes from occurring, deeming that such changes are gross violations of ‘freedom of speech’.

To legislate against abuse online is no different to legislating against physical abuse.

People abuse people online because it matters, because it can make a difference, because it can bring about harm to people, both directly, and then indirectly in the ‘real world’ when others are affected by what they read and see on the ‘virtual world’. There is an intent and desire in the mind of the abuser that people will be affected by what they read and thus have an impact on the people that are targeted by the words.

To stake claim that restricting abuse online is impinging on the right of freedom that people have to speech is akin to staking claim that legislating against rape, and murder and assault is impinging on the divine right that people have to freedom with their bodies. Clearly, a ridiculous concept.

When seen in this light it is very clear that freedom of speech does not incorporate freedom to abuse or bring about harm to another, in the same way that all laws are founded on the principle that liberties are not there to bring about harm to another.

As doctors, we are particularly vulnerable in the online world.

We have no protections from our own codes of conduct.

Anyone can write what they want about us online for everyone to find, from our peers to potential patients, actual patients, and anyone who is looking anything up about us. Perhaps even a potential partner or employer…

However, we are not allowed to use anything positive anyone says about us as it can be and will be considered a testimonial.

On my Facebook page,  an ex patient once wrote how happy she was to have met a doctor like me because I made such a difference to her. On legal advice, I had to delete that spontaneous comment because it could have been seen as a form of advertising on my personal page….. However, were it to have been a negative comment, true or otherwise, I would have not have had to delete it, as apparently that is an OK form of communication…. Seriously.

As it stands our current code of conduct actually sanctions abuse online against us doctors and provides zero protections for us from abuse online.

Additionally, our medical defences societies equally do not provide any protections to us from being abused online. They teach us how to ‘defend’ ourselves, eg, by, not being online….. uhuh. That’s the state of keeping doctors safe. ie “don’t walk down the street if you don’t want to be assaulted, and, watch what you are wearing ladies……”

Abuse online is not the same as ‘defamation’. The term defamation under rates the harm and the impact of what can be and does occur online. But defamation is the only term that we can legally approach as Dr Munjed Al Muderis found when a former patient started abusing and harassing and deliberately defaming him and his professional services online. However, defamation action is ridiculously inaccessible and expensive, and takes years to prosecute and you are not guaranteed of a win even when matters are clearly defamatory due to legal technicalities.  Often, the perpetrator has little to no money, and/or is unemployed….

The system my friends is rotten.

I know this because I myself like many doctors have been a target of cyber-abuse. A private person about matters that I do not think reflect my professionalism, I share this as an example as I know many more are abused without recourse to action and this is a situation that is not tenable in our society.

In my case, I have been targeted for 6 years, not by a patient or former patient, but by a woman who does not know me. Her motivations for targeting me do not make sense, nor the longevity of the malice. Because she is not a patient, even though she is targeting me professionally, my medical defence will not take action against her even though they have reviewed and clearly identified that her actions are profoundly defamatory.

For the last 6 years this woman has been blogging about me, and harassing me on social media, making allegations and insinuations that I am a cult doctor, cult recruiter, chief cult recruiter, that I endorse and enable pedophilia, child abuse, sexual abuse, ‘inappropriate touching’ and sexual molestation, that I am a Nazi doctor, that I engage in ‘magical thinking’ that I recruit patients to a cult in my workplace, that I am in breach of my code of practice, that I have financial conflicts of interest, that I take advantage of patients, and she incites patients online not to see me and to also to complain about me to the regulatory bodies.  She has even blogged that I made a ‘false and misleading’ submission to a parliamentary inquiry stating that I ‘sell’ ‘fraudulent integrity’.

This woman herself has made complaints about me to regulatory bodies to seek to harass me and bring about complications to me, and has bragged about doing such and threatened to make complaints about me online.

This woman has lied about and vilified and made assumptions about my chosen personal health care and wellbeing practices, which have transformed me from a burnt out, overweight, depressed, isolated, lonely doctor with chronic pain verging on being suicidal and quitting medicine, to a highly vital, energised, pain free, caring engaged woman, with the best health and wellbeing I’ve ever had, the most engaged I have ever been in society, in my profession, in academia, in the community with the best relationships both professionally and personally that I have ever had.

This woman has also religiously vilified me personally online and sought to bring ridicule and shame to me professionally because of my religious beliefs, but I note here not because of my actual religious beliefs, but because of the vilifying misinterpretation and misrepresentation of my religious beliefs.  ie, her propaganda.

This woman has misappropriated video recordings of private religious gatherings where people speak about religion, hear religious sermons and discuss them as a group in collective privacy and trust. She has taken comments out of context made by myself and others and sought to splice these images and words with her vilifying agenda to incite hate and reaction in her viewers towards those she has named. She has sped up the movements of speakers and presenters to ridicule them and sought to mock and demean those educated and respected professionals engaged in their fundamental right of freedom of religion. She has then posted these vilifying videos online and sent them to key people in the profession and no doubt in government positions and the media as well, to seek to discredit myself and other professionals who have had their privacy and right to sacred gatherings utterly violated by her, not just by the misappropriation of the content, but the raping of the sanctity of what was discussed.  These publications are online for anyone to find to cast doubt and suspicion as to the nature of my character and my professionalism, and my clarity of thought and thus my ability to do my job with professionalism and competency.

Were such a thing to be done to any businessman or woman in their religious Jewish or Christian discussion groups there would be an outcry, and rightly so as such acts are heinous and unacceptable in a day and age of religious freedom.

The abuse has not just stayed limited to her words about me. As a consequence of the inciting and malicious online vilification I have been contacted by the medical media and asked to justify how my religious beliefs fit in with my practice of evidence based medicine, something no Jew or Christian or even Muslim or Hindu would ever be asked, and nor ought they. 

This woman has vilified an entire group of people because of their association with one man, Serge Benhayon, his business Universal Medicine and a school of living that promotes and supports self responsibility, self empowerment, self love, and care and love for others equally so and engagement in society to give back. She has sought to demean their beliefs by lying about them, and belittle and dehumanise them by accusing and dismissing them as being members of a ‘cult’. She has placed all professionals she knows of associated with this religious way of living on a ‘Naming Names page,’ referring to them as ‘cult recruiters’. She has listed their names, qualifications, place of work and name of their business. This is vilification and an attempt at intimidation. Needless to say, her use of language has been foul at times, in fact, most times.

This woman, unemployed in her pursuit of her campaign, has published a 6 year litany of more than 380 malicious blogs and has targeted many health care professionals online and also offline, making repeated complaints, in a scattergun approach knowing full well that regulatory bodies have a trigger hair response to ‘investigating’ practitioners if the accusations are ugly enough. She has also harassed the employers and associates of multiple people in the health care field to seek their dismissal and ostracism from society, based on her vilifying lies.

The story is quite boring, I know, but the fact that this can and does occur is horrendous.

The fact that our medical boards allow this to occur and do not hold people to account for harassment and lies about health care practitioners is utterly horrendous.

If one is going to have laws that ensure that health care practitioners must be honest and not use testimonials to promote themselves, with a weighting on accuracy and truth, then equally there needs to be an accountability for all who post anything online about any health care practitioner. This is equality.

The fact that we do not have laws to outlaw cyber-abuse and hold perpetrators to account is utterly unacceptable in this day and age.

I have been a target of cyber-abuse for 6 years, and nobody can take any steps to stop it. Our medical boards and health care practitioner laws facilitate and enable this abuse.

I am not alone in being a target of cyber-abuse and this is why I share my story.

Daily doctors and other people are targeted with abuse online. Fake and/or vicious revenge ‘reviews’ are part of online abuse. I, like countless others also have been subjected to anonymous online fake reviews.

All doctors and health care professionals are at risk of being abused with no recourse to justice.

This is no longer acceptable.

I call on our government to implement legislation to stop cyber-abuse and hold perpetrators to account.

I call on our governments to pass legislation to hold people to account for what they say about health care professionals online.

I call on our governments to create a register for people who harass and intimidate health care professionals both on and offline.

I call on governments to bring about an end to online anonymity so that people are accountable for their actions online as they are offline.

This is what is needed to develop a society that is truly healthy and well.

It’s time to end the abuse of doctors and health care professionals.

Let our voices be heard.

7 thoughts on “I’m a doctor. I’ve been a target of cyber-abuse for 6 years. Its time for our laws to change.

  1. Thanks Maxine for your article on this very important issue of online cyber bullying /abuse in our society today. There definitely needs to be new laws drafted to not allow any form let alone this type of systematic and chronic cyber abuse to take place . As I feel it is a total criminal type of abuse that needs to be backed by government intervention and strong laws that hold perpertrators to full account for their abusive actions that harm others.

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  2. Cyber abuse has become like an uncontrolled unchecked plague, affecting many and with impact far beyond the immediate target of abuse. This call to action is much needed, not only in regard to the cyber abuse happening in the health professional sector, but across all industries and all sectors of life.

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    • Yes I think its a silent epidemic Angela. Its the sort of thing that people don’t really talk about with each other, its as if there is this silent shame, that everyone thinks everyone has read and believed the abuse but doesn’t know what they can say about it in real life to people. If you saw someone abusing someone directly, you would know what was happening and you would step in, but with online abuse, you see it happening, but don’t step in…….its as though its supposed to be secret even though it is very very real. I have heard of more cases of doctors being abused since I have shared my story. Its far far bigger and wider than we realise, and of course far wider than just the medical profession.

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  3. Online abuse is abuse and it is an abuse of responsibility for legislators not to have clear laws to prevent it and to protect those who are targets of abuse.

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  4. We have all sorts of laws in our lives, yet somehow we’re allowed to sling obscenities and slander at each other online. There is something in us that seems to get off on the irresponsibility of anonymously attacking other people. If its happening this much online, it makes me wonder whats going on inside all of us everyday. This abuse seems to be something we think we should take on the chin, or brush under the carpet, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s time we all said no, in no uncertain terms as you have done here so clearly Maxine.

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    • Its bizarre isn’t it. If someone assaulted someone in front of us, we would see it and feel we could or perhaps should do something about it. It is not a secret. Yet if someone abuses people online and we see it, we don’t feel as though we can take action or do something about it. It doesn’t make sense! Abuse is abuse and if we allow it to be hidden we allow it to fester. All abuse needs to be addressed.

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  5. This is a powerful account of the ridiculousness that we have accepted in relation to supporting someone’s ‘Right to speech’ even when it is incredibly harming, cruel, and damaging to people’s lives. I was not aware of the fact that Dr. Maxine shared here about how doctors are not allowed to share positive feedback testimonials, yet the negative ones are allowed to be smeared across the internet. How insane is that?! Clearly, this is not a fair and just system, and with the advent of social media without any legislative or regulatory control, we have created a monster here that has been running amok. Interestingly, when I looked up how to spell ‘amok’ I came across this definition which aptly describes the attacker of Dr. Maxine over the last 6 years: ..”but the English word most directly comes from the Malay amuck (also spelled amuk, and amuco), more or less meaning “attacking furiously” or “attacking with uncontrollable rage, usually from a single person after a period of brooding”.

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