Social Media & Social Work

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Social media is designed to connect people who otherwise could be geographically isolated, or to connect social networks with in both personal and professional realms. However the use of social media in the helping profession is not highly regulated which puts the question forward of whether it is ethical?

The biggest spoken about ethical issues presented by social media are privacy, informed consent and confidentiality. This article states that if a client is verbalising an intent to self harm social workers may indeed search social networking sites of client in order to gauge seriousness and personal circumstances however they also state that this goes against traditional social work practices, and borders on privacy. Everyone posts things online in their private domain during moments of frustration or delight but are these accurate representations of us as people? And should they be used to determine if a client’s intent to harm is serious.

With the options now available on social media to follow people and their feeds social workers are able to gather information on clients.

However this can blur the boundaries of the professional relationship. Though most social workers would not accept a friend request from a client, following a twitter news feed is no different. This can effect the therapeutic relationship in many ways, for example a client may feel a closer connection after viewing personal information or they may feel disengaged if they didn’t like what they saw.  The other forms of social networks are a little different instagram now allows you to have a private profile and control who may see your posts, but twitter does not.

With the added feature of location settings these boundaries can become even further blurred as clinicians can have access to a clients where about and know when they are in an environment that may not be beneficial to them, this exerts some kind of control. On the flip side of that if a client stumbles across a clinician’s location they can “accidentally” run into them and this occurrence can become awkward when the clinician does not respond the desired way and can cause rejection thus harming the therapeutic relationship.


How Can Social Workers Use Social Media Ethically?

I will give you some of my tips for using social media in your profession.

  1. do not follow clients on social media, this is risky and can become perceived as an invitation for them to find you.
  2. Do not post information about clients or cases that you do not have permission to do so, realistically don’t post information like this at all
  3. keep your information educational and beneficial to those who do follow your account if it is for professional use
  4. Link with other services to ensure valuable information is reaching clients, and don’t just stick to your local area but consider the rural clients
  5. Keep your privacy settings updated to protect your information from being used in ways you would not like it too.
  6. This one may irritate a few people however when you are posting don’t post things you don’t want your clients to see, because the way technology is evolving information is becoming more readily available.


So just remember if you are working in social work to use social media wisely and ethically to not cause harm to your cliental.


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