Older adults in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are now vulnerable to a new kind of abuse—abusive photos on social media. ProPublica recently reported 35 cases since 2012 in which staff members of these care facilities secretively posted pictures or videos of residents, some of whom were without clothing. These photos are not only embarrassing and dehumanizing for these older adult victims, they are breaching their privacy, stripping them of their dignity, and, even, breaking the law.
More than 16 instances involved Snapchat, a social media application in which people can post photos that others can see for a few seconds until they disappear with no permanent record. Although a few cases have led to criminal charges, including a case filed in early December against a nursing assistant in California, most of them have not. Posting pictures of patients without their permission violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law that aims to protect patients from civil and criminal crimes.
These cases are proof that social media is becoming a new platform for abuse of elderly patients. Nursing home staff members have been guilty of abusive treatment many times in the past, from using antipsychotic drugs to sedate patients, to sexually abusing residents. But posting explicit pictures is an emerging type of mistreatment that must now be brought to public awareness.