A Few Good Policies – Handling the Truth in Social Media

Author: Elsa Abruzzo

Every time I hear the words, “the truth”, the immediate image that flashes through my mind is the court scene from A Few Good Men where Colonel Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) responds to defense lawyer Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee’s (Tom Cruise), “I want the truth”, by emphatically declaring,  You can’t handle the truth”!

The question is whether the two Marines accused of murdering a fellow Marine at Guantanamo Bay acted on their own or were following a “Code Red” from their commanding officer—translated to our industry, “willful intent” from the top down vs. “rogue rep”.  “Code Red”, a euphemism for a violent extrajudicial punishment without permission by a court or legal authority, was an unwritten rule–the kind that doesn’t work in our regulated industry.

How does it apply to Good Promotional Practices (GPPs) and Social Media?  Okay, this is somewhat a of stretch, but pay attention; I think I can make the leap without too much injury.   Breaking or even bending the rules generally results in disorganization, chaos, and trouble.  Laws, rules, and policies are there for “Good” reason, to keep the order and provide objectivity.   

In the case of A Few Good Men, right and wrong were left to interpretation.  The truth was not only blurred; it was well hidden and camouflaged behind the cloak of necessity and honor.  I’m not here to debate whether judgment and experience trump the rule of law or policies in particular situations such as in battle or in emergencies.  However, in our industry and even in the case of this fine film, rarely do those circumstances truly exist.  A better alternative is to follow the FDA which has written rules to allow the breaking of rules, e.g. Emergency Use of Unapproved Medical Devices.   The point is, the rules and upholding the truth are intricately linked.

In social media in particular, a wise drug company (AstraZeneca back in March of this year) provided clear and accurate feedback and support to the FDA around a guidance document to remove interpretation of right and wrong in social media.  They wanted to ensure that any content created, developed, or made available by them in social media is truthful, balanced, accurate, and not misleading–similar to what we already preach and follow for GPP outside of the social media realm.  Being truthful in life, in promotional materials, and particularly in social media with its viral and real-time components is just common sense, right?   This is not only smart for the company and their stockholders, but smart for patients and healthcare providers who depend on “the truth” in order to make the best personal decisions.  Clear guidance documents, policies, and rules help to not only to define veritas; they are the vehicles for enforcing and upholding the truth.

An interesting topically-related post here — discovered after this post was written…

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