Most people are familiar with common types of nursing home abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and neglect. However, with the fast rise of mobile devices and related social media platforms, a new kind of elder abuse has developed in nursing homes and care facilities across the country: social media nursing home abuse.

What is social media nursing home abuse? While it can take many forms, it is commonly the act of nursing home employees and caregivers taking compromising, humiliating, or sexual pictures of those in their care and sharing them over various social media sites without permission. In most cases, the victims aren’t aware of this social media activity and cannot defend themselves.

Examples of Social Media Nursing Home Abuse

ProPublica investigated social media nursing home abuse and found a shocking 35 cases of abuse since 2012, many of them involving the social media application Snapchat. Here are just a few examples of abuse that have been recently reported:

  • A certified nursing assistant in Hubbard, Iowa, shared a photo of a nursing home resident covered in feces. The picture was not illegal under Iowa law, though the nursing home was eventually fined $1,000.
  • A youth volunteer at a Colorado nursing home shared a selfie online of a 108-year-old resident urinating.
  • A Livingston, New Jersey, nursing assistant sent a friend a photo of a resident’s genitals, which the friend then uploaded on Facebook.
  • In Newark, Ohio, a nursing assistant taught residents with dementia the offensive lines to a rap song and shared the video on Snapchat.
  • In St. Charles, Illinois, employees slapped a nursing home resident with a nylon strap when the resident said, “Don’t! Don’t!” The video was uploaded to Snapchat, with the employees laughing in the background

Fighting Against Social Medial Nursing Home Abuse

Before looking at how to combat such a new issue like social media nursing home abuse, it is important to first understand the root causes leading to the abusive conditions currently found in adult care facilities and nursing homes. According to West Virginia nursing home abuse lawyer, Tony O’Dell, common root causes of nursing home abuse include careless hiring, overworked employees and understaffing, poor training programs, lack of oversight, and pharmaceutical mismanagement.

Because social media websites and mobile devices are so new, there are few laws protecting the elderly and disabled from this new form of abuse. Combine the lack of these laws with the aforementioned staffing pressures and you can see just how vulnerable nursing home residents are to the various types of abuse. So, how can our nation fight back?

  • Creating new laws. Some states are looking into new laws regarding social media abuse of the elderly, while others are hitting those taking pictures and videos with charges like invasion of privacy. Posting naked or sexually explicit pictures of seniors or posting abuse of seniors is already illegal, but posting humiliating photos of seniors may not be technically illegal in many states.
  • Creating new nursing home policies. Nursing homes have expressed difficulty in controlling the use of mobile devices while on the premises since many employees use their phones for important functions, such as keeping in contact with their children and their children’s caregivers. However, many have written new policies specifically making it a violation (with serious consequences) to take pictures or videos of residents.
  • Creating new social media policies. Many social media platforms already have policies that disallow these abusive images from being shared. Unfortunately, companies like Snapchat require the person being violated to report offensive images, which isn’t possible for seniors with dementia.
  • Educating employees and the public. Simply educating everyone about the ethics of social media and the issue of social media nursing home abuse will go a long way toward stopping the issue. The more that employees are trained to compassionately care for their patients and the more that others recognize certain actions as abuse, the fewer violations will take place.

Reporting Nursing Home Abuse Related to Social Media

Nursing home abuse related to social media sharing is a complex issue because it is a relatively new problem. To fully understand your case and the rights of your elderly loved one, you may wish to speak with a nursing home abuse attorney.