The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Facebook is SOCIAL media – keep WORK out of it

Do we understand the value and risks of social media?  Clearly not.

This week’s Community Care Magazine online has reported on the HCPC case of a social worker with 15 years unblemished experience posting messages about a pending court case and the outcome of that course case on her facebook page.

No names, ages or family composition were apparently mentioned, although a map showing the court’s location was included, presumably an automatic addition due to a facebook setting.  The risk of a breach of confidentiality was, HCPC concluded, relatively low, and although the report suggests that other professionals might be able to identify the family from the comments my experience suggests that anyone else from the same office probably already knew anyway. The comments themselves were not outwardly derogatory but the underlying message would clearly be upsetting to the family involved.

Community Care reports: The social worker posted on the social networking site: “I’m in court tomorrow for a case where there is a high level of domestic violence amongst many things…” and after the trial finished posted: “It’s powerful to know that…children’s lives have just massively changed for the better and now they are safe and protected from harm and have every hope for the future…”

The comments could be described as statement of fact and professional opinion.  The problem lies in where they were said – social media – and the immediacy of their publication.  Writing case studies for academic studies, even publishing them, allows for careful consideration of what to include, degree of anonymisation and distances them in time from the event thereby adding to the cloak of anonymity on behalf of the family.  Social media does not offer that.

We should be able to identify the risks of facebook, applying knowledge in other areas to protect ourselves and our profession, let alone our clients.  As the news and investigations following the death of Baby P developed it became apparent that if social workers had known what Peter Connelly’s mother was posting on her facebook page they would have had ample evidence of her partner’s presence in the home and social activities to know she was lying to them and that Peter was ‘at risk’.  The ethics of whether or not it was appropriate for the professionals involved with the family to make such a search on facebook is another question.  The fact is the mother’s account was public and they could have found her comments online.  Logic dictates that if social workers are able to look up their clients online then their clients can do the same.

In her defence the social worker claimed she had thought her privacy settings would have prevented the client from reading her messages, however it seems that software or facebook updates had changed this.  As reported by Community Care the social worker updated her facebook status while sitting next to her manager, suggesting she did so using a mobile phone which does not have all the features of facebook readily available, such as checking on privacy settings, compounding her lack of awareness of the changes.

As a society we have grown accustomed to living our lives in the public domains of social media.  Younger social workers who have only known this environment particularly need to adapt to the changes needed as they taken on a professional role, such that the subject has gained a place in many professional discussions and even university courses.  It would be understandable if they made mistakes early on in their careers.  But this social worker had 15 years experience, suggesting someone at least in their late 30’s and showing we can all be vulnerable to social media complacancy.

Perhaps we should adopt a slogan: Facebook is SOCIAL media – keep WORK out of it.


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