Over the last week, well – over the past few months really, I’ve had a few thoughts swooshing around in my head about my use of a pseudonym rather than my ‘real’ name in social networking or rather on blogs and Twitter.
I use my real name on Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn but felt that on Twitter and on blogs I would be too exposed. My desires to explore the medium of social networking both personally but also to increase my professional knowledge and to identify myself as a ‘social worker’ led to my initial reluctance to add my name to my posts.
I have checked out my employers attitudes to my writing which seems to be along the lines of absolutely maintaining confidentiality and not bringing my employer into disrepute but these would be bounds I would keep to regardless, not least because I am bound by a code of conduct by my profession which extrapolates out to all areas of communication including social media. My managers know I have a blog. They know something vague about Twitter in that it exists but they may or may not read my posts. There are definitely some people in positions of authority both in my local authority and in my NHS Trust who know exactly who I am and that I use Twitter – although we rarely ‘converse’ directly.
I can’t help feeling that I would be more comfortable attaching my name to my posts if the GSCC had some clear and specific guidance regarding social media but I understand that they are about to be disbanded and this role will remain within the means of the College of Social Work to take forward. And they must.
I see some very concerning uses of social media by people who claim to be social workers and it makes me worry if, by not giving my actual name (which would be checkable against the GSCC as I am a registered Social Worker) I lose some of that trust and authenticity that is so important when sharing information online. When I see someone with ‘social worker’ or ‘student social worker’ in their twitter profile describing a visit they have attended or encouraging people to expose more personal information about them into a public forum, I worry that by remaining anonymous, I lose some of the trust that people may have in me.
I’m also meeting more people in face to face settings that I have previously only known on Twitter. Obviously, it’s impossible to hide my identity there and there’s something wonderfully refreshing about being able to be open about who and what you are, do and say.
So what am I afraid of? Having established that I feel I operate well within guidelines provided by the GSCC and my employer why the funny cow name and face rather than my real ones?
Firstly I don’t want anything to detract from the work I do on a day to day level. While I would never discuss people I work with in these media, would people whom I am working with who find me and follow me, worry that I might? What would I do if someone I worked directly with ‘followed’ me? Would this be a concern or not? While I’m clear that Facebook requests are refused without second thought – where do the Twitter boundaries fall?
I don’t want to be a ‘star’ social worker (I’m not, by the way, saying I would be if I were to attach my name here but I am turning my hand increasingly to writing). I want to be a social worker that promotes the profession positively and yes, I’ll have some conversations on Twitter about whether Pandas are better than Crocodiles but that shouldn’t impact on my professional status. Indeed, the way the world is going, I feel it is increasingly difficult to divide ourselves into ‘work’ and ‘free time’ entities. We become the mass of what we do, how we communicate and moreover how we are perceived.
I see doctors, nurses and occupational therapists increasingly using their own names in these fora and I do wonder if I have been overcautious and I would actually gain far more by ‘coming out’ than I could ever potentially lose.
I’m moving away from ‘anonymity’ as a default and my defence of pseudonymity is fading. I feel comfortable standing publicly by the words I publish and I write as if I had my name attached in any case.
However, I am aware than once I cross ‘that line’ I can never go back.
I’d be interested in the thoughts of others. As is probably obvious, I am moving towards a public identification of my writing online but would welcome thoughts, comments etc before I finally make the ‘leap’.
This is a way that the world is changing. I think a point comes where in order to gain trust you may well need to have a name attached.