Anti-social whispers: sorting myth from fact

by Rebecca Barnett

At one time or other over the past five years, I have been a member of around half a dozen Australian Facebook groups for massage therapists. At their best, these social media groups can be a wonderful resource: a rich source of support and advice for clinicians working at any stage of professional practice, from students to recent graduates to established practitioners with years of experience. I have been happy witness to some genuinely heartwarming moments, where practitioners have been counseled and warmly cajoled from career-threatening doubt to renewed confidence and enthusiasm for their chosen field.

At their worst, however, social media groups can become a minefield of misinformation, recycled myth, dogma, and shameless, free advertising and promotion.

It was the latter that saw me trim my Facebook group subscriptions down from half a dozen to just a single one about 18 months ago. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was ejected from one group for posting information about the exploitative nature of the gig economy for massage therapists and calling one group member to account for unethically mining data from other group members to use in advertising the on-demand massage app she was developing. Apparently, I was destroying the friendly, supportive tone of the group. Fair enough.

A poor shmuck named Sisyphus

Anyway, I made a conscious decision to ration my focus and attention onto the closed group that I moderate for AMT. On face value, I acknowledge that this decision sounds incredibly solipsistic and egocentric. The deeper truth, though, is that I had accepted that my heroically misguided attempts at “correcting the internet” were exactly that: spectacularly, heroically misguided. The Sisyphus of the modern era is no longer pushing boulders up a mountain – he’s mythbusting on the intertubes. Yep. I called them intertubes.

Where do I turn?

“So, where do I turn to for reliable information?” I hear you ask. Facebook groups are great for advice around clinical issues – management of clients, unfamiliar presenting conditions, or even just general encouragement, bolstering and a collegiate sense of community – though I would still be a little bit circumspect around the sometimes fine line between advice and advertising (for example, there might be continuing education providers perpetually lurking around in groups, pouncing on any promotional opportunity in the guise of something else. Other kinds of tacit sales of goods and services are very common too. Remember: if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product).

But for anything involving what I would call the practice management side of being a massage therapist, social media groups are a really terrible place to find reliable information: if you post a question about health fund provider status and numbers, third party payers generally, receipting, indemnity insurance or employment contracts in a Facebook group, you’re likely to get between 3 and 712 different opinions and, if you’re very, very lucky, one of those opinions will actually be correct. You really should be directing those kinds of questions to your association, not to 2613 colleagues you met on the internet. AMT can provide you with factual information in all of these areas of practice. (I should note at this point that, although AMT cannot give you legal advice on employment contracts, we ~can~ refer and guide you to the support you need. PLEASE don’t go looking for legal advice on social media. Massage therapists are not lawyers so the expectation that they are in any way equipped to provide reliable advice on legal matters is fundamentally insane. If it’s legal advice you need, the only place to get it is from a practising lawyer. The same principle applies with tax issues – if you have a question, consult an accountant and/or the ATO, not a fellow massage therapist.)

Case in point: gift vouchers and health fund claiming

AMT provides you with loads of resources to help you navigate the arcane domain of health funds and provider numbers and that’s just for starters. Most of the questions therapists have about health funds are answered in AMT’s health fund information booklet. (If you haven’t read it, please do it now. If you haven’t read it for a while, please review it now.)

For example, that raging debate you read on Facebook about whether you can issue a health fund receipt on a gift voucher? The answer is a clear and unequivocal no. Here’s what AMT’s health fund booklet says on page 14:

Can gift vouchers/certificates for massage services be claimed through the health funds?

No. Gift vouchers/certificates are not claimable through the health funds because the person paying for the gift is not receiving the treatment and the person redeeming the gift has not paid for the treatment. The receipt issued must clearly state that it is for a gift voucher/certificate, not for a treatment.

Medibank/ahm also helpfully clarified its position on gift vouchers to all the associations early this week:

“There appears to be confusion as to whether a gift card or voucher can be used to claim a benefit from Medibank or ahm. Medibank/ahm does not pay benefits for services when the services are fully covered by a third party. This applies to gift cards and vouchers. Should you require further information in relation to Medibank rules and policies please refer to our Member Guide. Medibank’s Fund Rules and policies are summarised in the Member Guide. The Member Guide details when benefits are not payable.”

Time to stop arguing about this issue and move on with more productive dialogue.

Second case in point: those *&%$^ing Medibank educational requirements

On the flipside, what about that recent claim you read on Facebook that it was the associations and not Medibank that were responsible for setting the educational requirements that have seen whole cohorts of graduates locked out of provider status? I really hope that this claim was the innocent mistake of a poorly-informed Medibank employee and nothing more sinister because it belies the 15-month David and Goliath legal negotiation that AMT entered into with the market giant, defending the industry’s hard-won competency standards. But that’s a whole epic tale for another blog post. In the meantime, I believe that this particular baby fallacy was quickly extinguished by a few sharp-eyed mythbusters, whose Sisyphean vigilance I am especially grateful for.

The take home message

Don’t mistake opinion for fact. Social media is generally opinion heavy and fact light. It’s just the nature of the medium. Opinions are useful where the answer to an issue or question may be nuanced (loads of clinical questions are highly nuanced, for example) but if a question requires a factual response, such as how much professional indemnity insurance cover BUPA requires or whether a gift voucher is eligible for health fund rebates, please turn to AMT for reliable information and support.

Bart is right

Oh, and while I am here, massage therapy is not contraindicated in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Yours sincerely,


PS the irony of giving advice on the internet about not taking advice on the internet is not lost on me.

About the Author

As Secretary of AMT, Rebecca Barnett has been at the coalface of professional advocacy for 12 years. Her proudest achievements include the release of the AMT Code of Practice in 2013 and the establishment of AMT’s classified massage therapy research database. She’s still not sure whether to be proud of, or horrified by, those nine stressful months of negotiation with Medibank Private back in 2014. The resulting baby was one that only a private health insurer could love. She is devoted to neologism and foodstuffs with the same specific gravity as havarti cheese but she is ambivalent about semi-colons.

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  1. Laura Calderone
    28/02/2018 - 8:14 pm

    thanks for this post rebecca!

    • Pleasure Laura. Nice to see you’ve joined the private AMT Facebook group too! Some good stuff going on there. Cheers, Rebecca

  2. Maree Clayton
    01/03/2018 - 10:29 am

    Thank you Rebecca. I love your blogs! So true noting the difference between ‘opinion’ and fact on social media.

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