Earlier this week, Stilton published a new edition of Good Medical Practice, the lance of many prongs which he and his goons use to skewer hapless doctors. Stilton’s premise is that doctors are a lawless reckless lot, and left to their own devices they will get up to all manner of mischief. From their hidden position behind the net curtains, Stilton’s goons have perceived a new mischief: the menace of doctors who appear incognito on social media. A prong – a somewhat bent prong, since most content on social media is publicly accessible – has been added to Stilton’s lance. New explanatory guidance alongside GMP warns: ‘If you identify yourself as a doctor in publicly accessible social media, you should also identify yourself by name’. Although framed as a ‘should’ rather than a ‘must’, this bent prong has its sights clearly set. For doctors foolish enough to carry on the anonymous caper, Stilton is coming to get you: ‘You should also be aware that content uploaded anonymously can, in many cases, be traced back to its point of origin’. Dr No is not entirely persuaded that GMC goons can trace their arses from their elbows, let alone trace Dr 22.214.171.124 through the complex web of shared internet service provision; but, be that as it may, anonymous medical bloggers are up in arms.
As they should be. Free speech, and more generally freedom of expression, is not limited to the agreeable: it ‘includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence.’ Freedom of expression also includes the freedom not to express, including the freedom not to express one’s identity, or to express oneself under a pseudonym, for what is Anonymous, if not a generic pseudonym? Whatever arguments can be made for and against pseudonymous or anonymous publication, and there are many that can be made on both sides, none of them are universally conclusive; and certainly none trump freedom of expression, in words of one’s own choosing, under a name of one’s own choosing, as long as one does not tend to provoke violence. The happenstance of being a doctor is irrelevant.