The rise of the Internet and the proliferation of social media have changed how we access information and interact. It’s now easier than ever to do research, find resources and make connections. However, the nature of these interactions have a much different quality in the online realm than off.
As we spend more time online, these changes inevitably impact the social work field in a variety of ways, both positive and negative. While access to information and resources is more convenient than ever, Internet use can also open up users to potential privacy breaches. The following are some examples of ways social media is impacting the social work field:
People facing personal, professional, health and family-related challenges now have easier access to support than ever before. There is a chat group, forum or social media group for just about every issue or topic. This allows people to feel connected at almost any time from the comfort of their own home.
The potential downside of these resources is a lack of monitoring or regulation. This could lead to poor quality interactions and experiences. In extreme cases, erroneous information could be shared, or cyberbullying could take place.
Social workers and health services professionals should be discerning in offering advice and recommendations regarding groups such as these. Handled well, online support can be a tremendously beneficial resource. However, it should be used in support of a traditional offline social services program, not in place of it.
The Hazards of “Fake News”
Unfortunately, the online space has become risky in terms of erroneous information and in some cases outright fabrication. Many of these stories are spread via social media. It’s important to determine reputable sources and steer clear of those that will lead users astray. For these reasons, social workers should properly vet all resources before recommending them.
In extreme cases, unverified online information can lead to bad advice and even liability issues. New Media Literacies and critical judgement are key with online resources and social media. Social workers must educate themselves on how to critique articles, websites and social media accounts to inform their recommendations.
Social workers should also have a strong ethical orientation to their social media use. Clients have a right to privacy even with their public postings. Getting too personal online could cross boundaries inappropriately. Is it a good idea for clients and social workers to follow one another on social media? The answer to this will differ on a case by case basis.
With child clients, social media monitoring can offer a way to watch for the early stages of cyberbullying and address it before it escalates. There have been numerous cases of online interactions turning negative and leading to tragic results. Keeping tabs on younger clients online allows social workers to do even better at their jobs. This is an example of an extremely positive outcome of the digital age.
The rise of the Internet and social media use have given way to dozens of questions related to the social work field. There is tremendous potential for enhancing the job social workers can do, but an awareness of the potential dangers and pitfalls is essential.
How might you enhance your role in social work using social media?