I wrote at the weekend about some of the positives of using social media for me as a social worker in frontline practice and was almost immediately asked about some of the dangers of using this medium so thought I’d follow up quite quickly with a post about some of the things to be aware of.
1. Social Media is not a Panacea
It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new project or idea and get carried away and believe that with social media and the ability to crowdsource ideas and share problems, we are finding new ways of working that will provide the answers to all those ills. It doesn’t remove the need for face to face communication and there are as many pitfalls as there are benefits.
We should not assume that it is the only way to discuss and share information with each other. Last week, in fact, I attended a meeting with social workers from other sectors and areas and one of the things we collectively decided was one of the most important positives of the day was the human contact and the actual ‘meetings’ that were taking place over cups of tea. It is good to remember that behind the sentences and the avatar is another human being who has good days and bad days and not to overemphasise the importance of a ‘name’ on a social media challenge.
I write anonymously. Others don’t. It is an issue that exists because of the work I do. I am very proud to identify myself as a social worker in social situations and in ‘real life’ but on the ‘internet’ a pseudonym makes me feel more comfortable. That’s a personal choice for me, it might not be the right choice but the fact that there are these choices to be made is one that can be particular to professions such as ours. While I would say that with or without the veil of anonymity, we should always remain responsible in what we say (my motto is to always imagine that my boss/mother/service users/colleagues can both read and identify me when I write whatever I write) and remember that it will reflect not only on us personally but on the profession.
This relates to the last point. Of course, it should go without saying that no bounds of confidentiality should ever be breached and while some networks can seem to be ‘safe’ if you only speak to friends, there is no need for details of work to be shared and you are on very dangerous ground if you decide you want to tweet some of the details of cases you are working on (yes, unfortunately I have seen it happen).
Regarding privacy, that is mostly your own. Know the different levels of privacy and security settings on the networks you use and use them appropriately to protect yourself.
4. Put the ‘Social’ in Social Media
Remember the social part of the social media. This is the beauty of it but don’t forget it isn’t about metrics or figures about how many people you have following you. It’s more about the quality of connections you make and the way you are able to build conversations into relationships. This can be forgotten sometimes in the rush towards Facebook ‘friends’ or Twitter ‘followers’ but the technology is just giving us new ways to connect and use our communication skills, it is not an end in itself.
5. Personal and Professional Ethical Values carry over
I can’t emphasise this enough. You might have an anonymous identity but that doesn’t exempt you from the GSCC Code of Conduct. True, you may never be caught but there is an expectation of a type of behaviour that includes all aspects of life. It’s mostly about respect. Respecting other people and their rights to privacy, respecting the profession and the type of work you do, respecting the ability to find new ways to communicate. Of course there should be a distinction between ‘home’ and ‘work’ which is why things like ‘facebook friend requests’ from people you have worked or are working with come into this. These lines may become more blurred as more of the private moves into public space. It doesn’t mean not to use these tools, but to always use them responsibly.
For me, the positives massively outweigh any cautions but this is just a very basic list. As always, I’d welcome more ideas and suggestions to add to it!
Finally this PDF document produced by the BMA providing social media guidance for doctors and student doctors is highly recommended. It puts the issues and considerations across far better than I have!