Hotline to help veterinarians deal with cyberbullying

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On Dec. 5, 2016, the AVMA established a Cyberbullying Response Assistance Hotline Pilot Program to assist AVMA members who have become victims of online attacks.

The Association also announced a new AVMA Advantage Member Discount program that offers AVMA members discounted access to an online reputation management and monitoring program offered by Bernstein Crisis Management.

Stressed woman working with a laptop

Cyberbullying has become a cause for concern among veterinarians and other veterinary professionals. Approximately 1 in 5 veterinarians surveyed by the AVMA in fall 2014 reported that they had themselves been victims or knew colleagues who had been victims of cyberbullying. They reported bullying incidents ranging from the posting of false online reviews to threats of physical or financial harm.

The issue gained the attention of the AVMA House of Delegates, which discussed the topic during its first Veterinary Issues Forum, held Aug. 4 during its 2016 regular annual session in San Antonio. Following the forum, HOD members approved a recommendation that the AVMA Board of Directors “elevate cyberbullying as a priority, with emphasis on continuing education, member awareness, crisis management, and collaboration with AVMA PLIT on reputation management tools.”

The hotline is the Board’s response. Board members approved a recommendation from the Office of the Executive Vice President to create the new member benefit during an Oct. 20, 2016, conference call.

The hotline (626-531-1140) will have 24/7 availability. Members can get 30 minutes of consulting time for free that is completely confidential. If additional guidance is needed, a discounted rate will be offered.

Bernstein Crisis Management will assist the AVMA in the development and implementation of the hotline. It will be up for a year, at which time, the Board can decide whether to renew its contract with Bernstein.

Dr. Kim May, an assistant director in the AVMA Marketing and Communications Division, fields calls from veterinarians seeking help in response to such attacks and has referred several AVMA members to the company when they were in dire situations.

“Bernstein will be a valuable partner in this effort. They’ve helped a number of clinics and have familiarity with the veterinary industry,” she told the Board, adding, “They will give a solid consultation during the first 30 minutes, which in many cases, should be sufficient.”

Dr. May estimates she receives one call a month from members who have been cyberbullied and need help. Last October, four veterinarians reached out to her or were referred by a VMA. More frequently, Dr. May discovers a clinic is being harassed through her online monitoring efforts, which she plans to continue. Often, she reaches out to the affected practice and offers help. The hotline will be one more resource for her to refer callers to.

In 2015, the AVMA developed resources to address best practices for preventing online reputation problems and mitigating cyberbullying.

The Association’s Online Reputation Management page has a Social Media Response flowchart and a customizable template, created to help veterinary clinics plan when and how their veterinary and support staff would respond to attacks.

But the page emphasizes, “Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prevent damage to your reputation is to take a close look at your business practices—from pricing and billing, to friendliness in client interactions, to creating a happy work environment for your employees—to make sure all of your activities are beyond reproach. Good business practices won’t guarantee that you don’t ever come under criticism; but they can help you defend yourself, and also garner goodwill that might bring loyal clients and staff to your defense in the event that you do come under attack.”

Other best practices, according to the page, include conducting regular environmental scanning on social media and across the internet to monitor what is being said about a clinic and its staff and taking precautions to make sure the clinic’s own website and social media won’t invite criticism.

For assistance with these measures, AVMA members can subscribe for discounted rates to the DVM Reputation Guard program offered by Bernstein Crisis Management, which provides monitoring and alerts as well as assistance in addressing problems before they become overwhelming.

AVMA members have access to a free 24/7 cyberbullying hotline at 626-531-1140 staffed by crisis management experts at Bernstein Crisis Management. The Association’s Online Reputation Management page offers resources.

Related JAVMA content:

Pressing topics addressed by HOD (Oct. 1, 2016)

Fighting the cyberbully (Nov. 15, 2014)