Update August 20, 2011, 4:39 pm PDT : be sure to read the message from EpiRen, René Najera in the comments
EpiRen is the twitter handle of René Najera. His twitter account was linked to his blog, which had his real name and his place of employ. He has been a great credit to the epidemiology and public health professions through his public blogging, blog commenting, and twitter use. Latterly, he's been public -- writing and tweeting under his own name.
I particularly appreciated his series, Epidemiology Night School, as it was a field of study relatively new to me. Mr. Najera has also been a stalwart defender of the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
Mr. Najera is employed by a state Department of Public Health on the East Coast.
Last weekend, Mr. Najera had a heated exchange with a pharmaceuticals "entrepreneur", Mr. X-- I put that in quotes as Mr. X. made some claims that don't stand up. Mr. X also made a series of ad hominem attacks on Jen Gunter MD, to which Mr. Najera responded.
Rather than responding to Mr. Najera, Mr. X escalated in a particularly virulent way. Mr. X sent a series of emails--complaining about Mr. Najera's opinions, complaining about Mr. Najera's defense of vaccination, and threatening legal action--to a great many people senior to Mr. Najera in his department -- starting with Mr. Najera's immediate superior. Mr. X was able to do so because Mr. Najera was blogging under his own name, named the state in which he worked, and because the name René Najera is rather uncommon -- especially in a small, East Coast state.
Social media in health care are here to stay, and as Mr. Najera's work has shown, can advance the lay person's understanding of public health and epidemiology. But being a strong public advocate can invite push-back from people who disagree -- say, over the value, safety, and efficacy of vaccines. Not all of those who disagree are civil or even rational. Some of those who disagree elect to cause trouble in the advocate's place of employment...which is easily discoverable if the advocate uses social media under the name on the advocate's paycheck.
I hope this will give some people who oppose pseudonymous social-media use some pause. I hope it gives health care social media mavens some particular pause.