By: Traci Bartley Young, LCSW
Facebook permeates everyday social chatter, whether someone is sending a request to join or a friend is posting pictures of family. I had a recent discussion with a friend who joined Facebook as a way to market her growing business and to network. As a social worker, I am always looking at ways to network and thinking about new technologies that may enhance client functioning. The more I considered Facebook and social networking sites in general, the more I realized the ethical implications for social workers who use these sites and the possible clinical impact for our clients. This is by no means an exhaustive discussion of all the things one must consider before using a site, nor does it address all of the ways such use could affect clients. This article is intended to be a snapshot of a few issues social workers should contemplate with regard to social networking sites. The NASW Code of Ethics (1999) will be used as a reference, citing particular standards that provide a guide for each ethical issue.
4.03 Private Conduct
Social workers should not permit their private conduct to interfere with their ability to fulfill their professional responsibility.
Social workers are valued members of their communities and often are looked to as role models. Many of us play very public roles. If your profile on a social networking site reflects a persona different from the one you portray at work or in the community, maybe you should reconsider its content. Co-workers, people you network with, and clients utilize these sites and may be looking to see if you use them, as well. If your profile could negatively affect your image as a social worker, it will interfere with your ability to do your job. Additionally, potential employers may be looking on these sites. If you are new to the profession, you will want to represent yourself in the best light possible.
Another issue for clinicians to consider is how their membership on a social networking site may affect potential or current clients. Consider for a moment anxious clients who see you, their social worker, as a reliable nurturer. Upon perusing their favorite social networking site, they search for your name. You have posted pictures of your most recent vacation, and what the clients discover is far different from the comforting support they seek weekly. How may this discovery affect your relationship? Or consider new clients who are curious about you and look you up before your first session. Will the information they encounter affect their desire to seek help or their ability to form a positive relationship with you? Although many of the sites allow you to adjust your security settings, this does not prevent other “friends” from posting or “tagging” pictures of you.
Finally, social workers should avoid personal use of these sites on agency time. It may, however, be acceptable to use social networking sites to network professionally. And increasingly, agencies are using sites for various forms of outreach. Social workers may even be asked to post on behalf of the agency. All agencies have different policies, but in general, using social networking sites for personal use should be avoided at work. This could affect your time management and mental focus, and interfere with professional responsibilities.
1.07 (a) Privacy and Confidentiality
Social workers should respect clients’ right to privacy. Social workers should not solicit private information from clients unless it is essential to providing services or conducting social work evaluation or research....
Conversely, have you ever considered looking up a client on a social networking site? Let’s say you are seeing a new client, and during the assessment something does not add up. Later in the day, you become curious about the client’s private life and consider checking to see if he or she has a profile on Facebook or MySpace. Stop right there. All clients have a right to their privacy, to their own lives, and to the content of their own social networking sites. If something does not makes sense about the client and you need more information, there are far more direct ways of gathering that information. Additionally, how might the information you find on the Web affect your view of, and relationship with, that particular client? If you absolutely feel that all the answers to your questions lie in the social networking site, perhaps you could ask the client to share that site with you and you could look at it together. If used in a responsible and straight-forward way, blogs, Web pages, and social networking sites could be powerful shared tools for assessment or therapeutic means.