Critical conversations: Social workers’ perceptions of the use of a closed Facebook group as a participatory professional space.


cloud_shelf_icons_300_nwmDeb Stanfield 

The use of social media in our world today continues to excite and confound us; despite its significant presence in our everyday lives, we are still grappling with its true nature and coming to terms with its power and peculiarities. Social work is poised to develop a unique, critical understanding of social media on multiple levels – our international colleagues are theorising and generating research about how social media is used in practice, for professional development, social action, research and in the delivery of social work education.  We are learning from our social work peers and related disciplines about the relevance of the digital divide and big data to our social justice work, of how we can and should be ethically and critically positioned to communicate and enhance everyday service delivery using social media. We still have a long way to go.

As said by sociologist Christian Fuchs ,

all media are social because they are part of society and aspects of society are present in the technological artefacts we use (Fuchs, 2017,p. 4).

In principle therefore social workers will be profoundly interested in social media, its impact on people we serve, on society, and on ourselves as members of the social work profession. We are also likely to be daunted by the enormity of the responsibility this implies. In discussing the new ethical challenges presented by social media which Frederic Reamer (2016) describes as warranting our “explicit and sustained attention,” he depicts the task ahead as

the newest frontier in social work’s noble efforts to keep pace with the times and develop ethically-informed innovations to meet the needs of vulnerable people and communities (Reamer 2016, p. 10).

There is an urgent call for research and for social work students to be taught a critical approach to social media which “encompasses benefits and challenges that create ethical issues and have impacts that cannot be understood in simple, binary, or linear ways” (Boddy & Dominelli, 2016).

The above reality led to a small piece of local research about how social workers use a closed Facebook group called Social work in Aotearoa New Zealand (SWANZ), which three years since its inception has over 1000 members. Using a survey (Ballantyne, Lowe & Beddoe, 2017) and follow up interviews, this case study asked SWANZ group members why they joined, how they engaged with the group and what they saw as advantages and challenges of participating in the forum.

The interview findings, reported  in our second article from the project,  described participants with hope for all the promises of social media – robust professional dialogue, comradery, access to resources, research and practice advice, and as a place for social action. The study equally reveals social workers with fear about ethical and professional online behaviour and the barriers this presented to achieving these aspirations.

Read the full article here.


Ballantyne, N., Lowe, S., & Beddoe, L. (2017). To Post or Not to Post? Perceptions of the Use of a Closed Facebook Group as a Networked Public Space. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 35(1), 20-37. doi: 10.1080/15228835.2017.1277903

Boddy, J., & Dominelli, L. (2016). Social media and social work: The challenges of a new ethical space. Australian Social Work, 1-13. doi: 10.1080/0312407x.2016.1224907

Fuchs, C. (2017). Social media: A critical introduction (2nd ed.). London, UK: Sage.

Reamer, F. G. (2016). Evolving ethical standards in the digital age. Australian Social Work, 1-12. doi: 10.1080/0312407X.2016.1146314

Stanfield, D., Beddoe, L., Ballantyne, N., Lowe, S., & Renata, N. (2017). Critical conversations: Social workers’ perceptions of the use of a closed Facebook group as a participatory professional space. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 29(3), 42-54. doi:10.11157/anzswj-vol29iss3id311


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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