The past decade has seen an explosion in the use of social media. Today, Facebook alone has an estimated 32 million users in the UK, while Twitter has around half that number – and there is endless variety in the ways that individuals use their social media accounts.
Some people may only sign in once or twice a year to share holiday snapshots with friends and family. For others – especially younger people – their online presence may be a core part of their everyday life and their identity, checking in and posting updates dozens of times throughout the day.
Social Media in Social Care
For social workers, using these online platforms can undoubtedly have positive aspects; social media sites are a great tool for keeping in touch with family and friends, and they can also be useful for business networking or interacting with colleagues and others in the same profession.
There are clear benefits in being able to talk to others who share similar experiences and understand the unique demands of social work, and online forums can be a powerful resource for knowledge sharing and learning.
“Friends” in Need
However, social media use can also be a professional minefield. One of the realities of being a social worker is that you have ethical responsibilities – including duties of confidentiality to service users – that extend beyond your working hours. Connecting with a service user as a “friend” on social media – as innocuous as that might seem – can be seen as inappropriate and inevitably raises issues around professional boundaries and confidentiality.
There’s certainly an argument that, used appropriately, social media could be a valuable tool for social workers; a means of breaking down barriers and communicating with vulnerable people. However, even with the best of intentions there is massive potential to get it wrong. In 2014, one social worker was censured after it was found that her Facebook posts about a case – which she had assumed could only be seen by friends – were in fact visible in public and could have led to the family being identified.
Cases such as this highlight the fine line that social workers can tread when they use social media. While the British Association of Social Workers does have a formal social media policy, this will be an area to keep an eye on in the years to come as we expect to see further shifts in the ways that people choose to use social media.
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