Ah, Halloween. When I think of thee, I think of candle-scorched pumpkin-flesh smell, insulin shock, and the fun in being scared with fake blood and monsters. To celebrate Halloween, the Social Work Tech Guy wants to share one legitimately scary thing in relation to Social Work and Tech.
Your Online Identity
It seems like all of us have Facebook, many of us have Twitter (my favorite of the bunch), and some of us even have our own non-professional WordPress or Tumblr websites. These social websites are a great way to connect with friends, strangers, and people who share similar interests. Some folks I consider to be the best of friends have come from online acquaintanceship.
A brief rundown of aforementioned sites:
- Facebook: a great site if you want to keep in touch with people in your life from the present and past.
- Twitter: much more future-oriented and distraction-free (i.e. no updates on my timeline about your virtual farm) with limits of up to 140 characters per tweet.
- Tumblr: inappropriateness mixed with poignancy, integrated with meaningful relationships.
- WordPress: a platform that allows one to present creative, professional, and meaningful ideas to the masses without looking cheap.
As demonstrated, our online identity allows for us to use different websites to put ourselves out there. As social workers, this can be problematic.
Identifying Yourself as a Social Worker
When identifying ourselves as social workers in our private social media lives, we run several risks, especially when we are found by our colleagues, bosses, and heaven-forbid our clients:
- Judgement upon us for the work that we do – “Is this person qualified to be working with [insert special population here]?”
- Questioning of our professionalism – “OMG! Did s/he really just tweet that?”
- Reinforcing stereotypes that social work professionals are flawed persons – “Why is this person intervening with my relationship when they’re talking about the destructive parts about their own?”
- Having our intentions questioned – “Why is this person tweeting about this client?” or! “Am I the client that this social worker just tweeted about?”
- Opening Ourselves up to attack with those who have previously had negative social worker experiences – “I’m going to judge everything this person does [e.g. drinking, partying behaviors, etc.] because one of them took away my niece and put her up for adoption”
My best advice is, unless you are going to tweet as a professional, do not identify yourself as a social work (or social care) professional.
Here’s an example of a professional who tweets and identifies as a social worker:
Discussing Yourself, i.e. Over-sharing
- Your sex life, including behaviors/kinks/conquests/etc.
- Your drinking behaviors, including your epic partying shenanigans
- The N-word (I have seen a few twittering social workers have this on their profiles or retweets)
- Opinions that can be considered oppressive to cultures, peoples, genders, etc. that people can identify with
- Anything having to do with your clients (expanded on the next section)
I wanted to add “talking badly about your employer” to the list, but I am sure everyone needs to vent – although this can lead to unexpected, undesired, and unintentional consequences to you.
- Keep in mind that posting nude (or semi-nude) pictures of yourself or dressing provocatively may also be considered inappropriate and may lead to very unwanted situations
Discussing Your Clients, i.e. Being Unethical
I have an online social work colleague that brought to my attention that I had broken my rule about tweeting about clients by tweeting about clients. Specifically, I tweeted something unfavorable a grievance about the work I was doing and I thought I was safe, due to posting this in a location I thought was blocked. In hindsight, it was very unethical.
Things I [try so hard to] avoid:
- Discussing a client, period.
- Discussing my opinion of a client, favorable or otherwise.
- Discussing specific interventions that I have done with a client (e.g. a tweet: “I just helped a client weigh pros versus cons about staying in her abusive relationship” <- NO!)
- Discussing specific topics of conversation with the client (e.g. a tweet: “A client talked to me about his severe anxiety and it totally bummed me out” <- NO!)
- Why you are experiencing countertransference, conflicting emotions, or cognitive dissonance as it relates to your client
The one person who does blogging in this capacity correctly is SocialJerkBlog. She is anonymous, has honest reflections, and cannot be pinpointed as to who she is or who she works for. Furthermore, she represents an honest reflection of an honest social worker but does not degrade our profession in her description of her work. I salute you, boo 🙂
If possible, I would avoid talking about your clients online, altogether to maintain appropriate boundaries. In a later section, I will discuss this in the context of the NASW Code of Ethics.
Giving Away Your Location
With sites such as FourSquare, Gowalla, and Facebook allowing you to “check in” to locations, I fear being found out and tracked by a company or individuals who can then decipher my behaviors of picking up my morning bagel here, grabbing lunch there, having a brew with friends out yonder. This can possibly be classified as over-sharing and may turn problematic if you are checking in to the same bar on consecutive days. When people assume that you are at the bar to get drunk and not to meet with friends, messages can be mixed up.
Bonus Tip: If you own a website ending in .com or .org (or etc.), you may want to invest in a PO Box or use a different address than your home address when you register your site. Due to the fact that websites can identify other website owners (by using Google to search “whois” and “domain”) your address is in the public domain.
- Only link to those that you absolutely trust.
- Lock down your privacy so that only your friends can see you and only those that have your personal email can find you.
- Assume that everything you say/do/link-to/etc with Facebook will one day be read aloud at an ethics hearing.
Potential Issues and Ethical Concerns
Consider how the NASW Code of Ethics for the Profession of Social Work plays into your online behavior.
How can one adhere to the Values (and Ethical Principles) (NASW 2008) of:
- the social worker is not honoring their client and disparaging them?
- online behavior can lead to a detrimental relationship due to aforementioned undesireable behaviors?
- your identity online as a social work professional affects how people perceive the entire profession?
Might I suggest, as an intervention, that you check out your online behavior as it correlates to Ethical Standard #1 in the Code of Ethics that outlines Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities To Clients?
Take it easy out there! Tweet well, do good work, and keep in touch*.**
*A play on the trademarked words by Garrison Keillor on “The Writer’s Almanac”.
** comment 🙂
Fantastic post with excellent advice 🙂
Such a great post, and considerations I’ve tried to bring up many times with my professional colleagues. I’m passing this on, you’ve written it better than I could have. Social media is neither the hero nor the villain it’s often portrayed to be, it just requires thoughtfulness in use.
What a great post. Flawless as always.
A very comprehensive list. I would also like to add that it’s easy to maintain personal and professional twitter acct with a desktop app like tweetdeck or the many others out there that let you see tweets from multiple accts as well as send out a tweet from whatever accout as well.
Of course this doesn’t control for unethical content, oversharing, etc., but knowing you can have a private personal acct where you can divulge to whomever you allow to follow you vs a public professional acct where one is always mindful of what they are broadcasting could be of help too keep things ethically sound.
Love this post, Iggy. It’s a great reminder to us all not to get too comfortable online. NOTHING is really private no matter what your settings are. Your ‘friends’ and followers can easily “out” you if we post something inappropriate.
Even if we are “anonymous”, its very likely that we can be “found out” if someone put the effort into it. I have to remind myself that not all of my followers are social workers and I have to be careful of what I retweet.
I only have one twitter account and try to present the real me to the world. Flaws and all. So, if im not comfortable shouting out my tweets in public, then I wont tweet it or RT it. 🙂
Great advice, bud! And a lovely caption 🙂 I’m always having to remind myself that, no matter what I think, when people know I’m a social worker, I do represent the profession.
Great thorough post, Iggy! I think ethics and social work are a mixed bag, especially when we are discussing clients? I definitely don’t think we should be discussing specific cases w/ names or even complaining about clients, but the internet does provide a global forum where we can pick up best practices and share ideas on specific or general client populations. For example, I work with housing vulnerable families and would love to know about other social workers experiences. What do you think?