Monthly Archives: February 2012

Trust, Anonymity and Authenticity

Anonymous #7

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.

Why Social Care needs Social Media

… And Why Social Media needs Social Care

This week, I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of events as a part of Social Media Week London. Ideally, I’d like to have attended more but combining evening activities with a full time job can be difficult to pace at the best of times.

The two events I went to, one about Blogging specifically and the other about use of Social Media by Nurses and Midwives were very different.

One took place in the downstairs room of a pub. The other in a flash office in central London. I’ll leave you to guess which was which.

Both had an underlying theme though – and that was the positive value of conversation and interaction that is entered into when media becomes social media.

It left me thinking about what needs to change both in Social Care (and more specifically, Social Work) to enable the positives to be accentuated while both practitioners and users of these services remain safe and within professional boundaries.

I considered the three networks than can improve work practice. How I use them and how they can be used.

Professional to Professional

We can build networks of conversation across social work and social care which can enhance knowledge and professional practice. Some examples of this might be both Twitter Chats (#swscmedia #sm4sw #nurchat) but also networks built based on forums such as Community Care’s CareSpace, KnowledgeHub and their specific interest groups relating to Social Care (I’m in a few Mental Health and Safeguarding Adult Groups) and the GSCC forum which is locked to those registered to the GSCC. There are also LinkedIn networks such as the Advanced Social Work Practitioners Network and Groups on Facebook such as the Masked AMHP page.

These have and can be immense sources for support and information. I believe they can also, particularly useful in a profession like social work which has been poorly served by ‘leaders’ who may seem sometimes more focussed on self-aggrandisement than professional representation they can firm up a professional identity and sense of ‘belonging’.

There is also a much freer flow of information between university academics and researchers and front line practitioners which has allowed me access and information about the most current research which has significantly fed into my practice knowledge and understanding.

Within these criteria these spaces are usually inhabited by those who are aware of professional codes of ethics.

In the absence of such specifics, it is obvious that even behind a closed network, no confidential information should ever be shared and that bullying of other users is just as unethical as it would be in ‘real life’. Hiding behind an anonymous user name does not excuse poor conduct. I’ve seen all these ‘precepts’ being broken by people professing to be ‘professionals’ online.

Professional to User and Vice Versa

I’m being a bit lazy with use of the distinction between ‘professional’ and ‘user’. Not least because it is entirely possible to be both. However the context in which I am referring to this here is where a personal self-identifies as someone within a particular profession and someone (not necessarily known to them) may seek them out for guidance on the basis of that professional role.

It might be a general call out for information on aspects of the Mental Health Act (1983 as amended 2007). I know I’ve responded to those kinds of requests on Twitter.

However in the absence of specific social media guidelines from the GSCC, I refer to those used by the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) about not using social media or social networking sites to build or pursue relationships with people for whose care you are responsible or were ever responsible.

Though social media can be used to share information and we shouldn’t be afraid to signpost information. One of my sadnesses (and joys) was to hear about nurses talk about positive use of social media to inform and share factual information to people who might find it more accessible.

Some twitter chats and fora again open up to users and professionals in different ways but if they do and if they are intended to, I think it’s important that they are accessible and open to users by remaining jargon free and informative rather than building further divides in both knowledge and power between those who work in social care and health and those who need those services.

Multi-Disciplinary Forums

This was one area I’d have liked to discuss in more length at the Nursing and Midwifery Council event because for me, it’s been one of my sharpest learning curves in social media and my own professional development.

Too often we hear about ‘health’ ‘social care’ being divided and these social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Blog platforms, Forums, LinkedIn and I could go on, allow me to build links with those in health, and policing, and law and communications and for us all (I hope) to grow more knowledgeable and understanding as a result.

I’ve personally benefited immensely from the Twitter Chats at #nhssm and ‘#lgovsm as well as #polmh from Mental Health Cop. I have found in my professional life that silos are best broken by personal relationships which are made and formed and being able to see these ‘other professionals’ as people before representatives of ‘Nursing’ or ‘Occupational Therapy’ or ‘Social Work’ or ‘Ambulance Staff’ or ‘Academics’.

This is a real way that social media can benefit understanding in the delivery of better care for those who use and need our services and that has to be the outcome that we are all looking for.

And of course, my own witterings at Not So Big Society involve a collaborative element between social workers and nurses!

The Future

There’s a well known saying that the past is another country but then, so is the future. I think the future is very exciting. I’d love to see the College of Social Work establish some guidelines for professionals in the use of social networking in similar lines to the NMC.

I know that we should be able to extrapolate out these guidelines from the current Code of Practice but I feel that more guidance is needed to protect social workers and social work students as well as users of social work services – for clarity and to ensure and promote safe practice.

In the meantime, I’ve said it before and will again, pseudonym or not, be sensible. If you identify yourself as a professional, behave like you. Blog, Tweet, Link as if your name was attached. If you are not happy with that, think about what you are posting/writing before you press send.