The emergence of social media has revolutionised how we communicate with one another and how information is transmitted and shared. No longer are we solely consumers of the media but now also producers. I think this goes way beyond Andy Warhol’s vision of one day everyone being famous and having their 15 minutes. Whilst I am not the most adept in restricting my tweets to 140 characters and keeping up with all the threads of a debate, I find SM appealing on so many different levels; to some extent, it redistributes power as relative unknowns can be the first to broadcast information and images about vital world events by dint of being on the scene and therefore, direct witnesses. This has the effect of dissipating power from the traditional media outlets as individuals elect to go to alternative sources to access information and indeed engage and communicate with one another. This is very different to the more familiar didactic model. SM therefore, provides space for expression and dialogue outside of the usual restrictive structures which can be particularly liberating for those in society who do not have a voice. Of course, ‘posts’ can range from the sublime to the ridiculous but demonstrate the need for human beings to be heard and validated; I remember being at school and inscribing the immortal words ‘I woz ere’ on my desk.
In social work, we quite rightly place a great deal of importance on the narrative of those with whom we work in order to understand their experiences and standpoints. As a profession, we need to create and develop our own narrative about issues and SM provides a platform for doing this. It can be very reassuring to read someone else’s tweet and have a sense of solidarity, realising that we are not the only one holding a particular view. Dare I say it, tweeting, blogging etc. have a therapeutic element usually born out of a frustration of social work being misrepresented by the media and so the opportunity to vent individually and collectively can be cathartic. It can also enable dialogue with others who have a shared interest in our activities and so to some degree is inclusive.
Nevertheless, it would be extremely remiss of me to simply wax lyrical about the benefits of social workers engaging in social media without talking about the dilemmas it also poses to us on both a personal and professional level. A recent example of this was a ‘hate’ site that was established a few weeks ago appearing on Facebook with photographs of several social workers working in child protection branded as criminals. BASW was contacted by a number of social workers who were affected by this quite rightly asking what could be done about it as they were worried about their personal safety. Apart from make a formal statement condemning such activities, BASW took a number of actions including direct support to members, letters to every Director of Children Services where their employees had been ‘named and shamed’ which included guidance for employers we had devised some time ago to tackle this eventuality. Finally, colleagues from our Communications team have been following up the issues with the social networking providers and I am pleased to say, had some success in terms of getting them to remove the offensive material from their sites.
Apart from the issue of ‘hate’ sites, BASW is also in the process of finalising a policy on the use of social media. The key tenets of the policy are to support social workers to use social media appropriately, recognising both the opportunities and challenges it presents to us and lastly, to ensure practice is based on the BASW Code of Ethics. We hope that this will help social workers to make well informed decisions and judgements about how they choose to engage with social media, acknowledging that our conduct even in a virtual world, requires some checks and balances.
Nevertheless, the phenomena of social networking is in its infancy and will doubtless continue to throw up a plethora of quandaries as its usage grows:
“The complex web of interactions between social networking service users and their online and offline communities, social network developers, corporations, governments and other institutions—along with the diverse and sometimes conflicting motives and interests of these various stakeholders—will continue to require rigorous philosophical analysis for decades to come.” Social Networking and Ethics
It is a journey for us all but one that we need to make with our social work values and principles intact.
Join us every Tuesday at 20:00 GMT / 15:00 EST for an exciting and enriching Twitter Debate @SWSCmedia.