Social media has redefined how we are able to keep in touch with family and friends, find people and relate to others. Research has shown that social workers have been using social media, both collectively and individually, as a way to ‘collapse borders’ between social workers and service users to gain another view of their lives through monitoring of Facebook pages. While it is known that such practices go on, no research has shown how Facebook is actually used in case work with families and under what circumstances. This short video has been created to stimulate debate about the ethical issues of social media use by social work professionals. The video draws on findings from an ESRC funded research project into child protection processes in England*.
Our presentation draws from an ethnographic study of child protection social work practice in England that involved 15 months of participant observation at two sites. The study observed incidences of Facebook being used by social workers as part of risk assessment and on-going case work with families. Sage and Sage (2016) observe, with reference to assessments, that there is a lack of research around how social networking sites are being used to inform social work practice. On the one hand they can be viewed as an acceptable tool for social workers with concerns about the truthfulness of service-user information. On the other, they are seen as an intrusion across the border into (semi) private spaces. These contentious positions: the surveillance of Facebook and the issues of consent and power underpinning this practice are both worthy of ethical exploration within the profession. Our paper, first given at SWSD 2018 in Dublin, reports how social workers provided researchers with a rationale for their use of Facebook and analyses the ethics of such practice in the context of the specific concerns in the cases and the broader issues of power and human rights.
*The research team: The project is “Organisations, staff support and the dynamics and quality of social work practice: A qualitative longitudinal study of child protection work” funded by Economic and Social Research Council.
Professor Harry Ferguson, University of Birmingham
Dr Tarsem Singh Cooner, University of Birmingham
Associate Professor Liz Beddoe, University of Auckland
Dr Jadwiga Leigh, University of Sheffield
Dr Tom Disney University of Northumbria
Dr Lisa Warwick, University of Birmingham
References in the presentation
Clinton, B. K., Silverman, B. C., & Brendel, D. H. (2010). Patient-Targeted Googling: The Ethics of Searching Online for Patient Information. Harvard Review of Psychiatry 18(2), 103-112. doi:10.3109/10673221003683861
Kolmes, K., & Taube, D. O. (2014). Seeking and finding our clients on the Internet: Boundary considerations in cyberspace. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(1), 3-10.
Sage, T. E., & Sage, M. (2016). Social media use in child welfare practice. Advances in Social Work, 17(1), 93-112.
Sage, M., Wells, M., Sage, T., & Devlin, M. (2017). Supervisor and policy roles in social media use as a new technology in child welfare. Children and Youth Services Review, 78, 1-8.