Ethical Concerns When Using Social Media


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In the latest Iron Man, Tony Stark played by Robert Downey Jr., always has the best and newest technology gadgets out there. Even though Iron Man is a fictional movie, the use of technology and social media is revolutionizing how we communicate, process information, and problem solve local and global problems. However, many helping professions struggle to use the basic technology which require minimal skills in order to enhance our communications with each other. Until we master the basics, we will have difficulty intertwining advanced technologies into practice.

With the uber-trendy social networking sites’ (SNS) captivation of Internet users around the world, those in the helping profession are having a hard time keeping up with the latest and greatest in this season’s social media tools before they become outdated.

While many are quick to claim that this lag is due to an “old-school” mentality of avoiding 21st century technology, there are several factors that social workers, non-profits, and government agencies have to take into consideration before they can pick up the new toy on the playground. Private entities that are not working with vulnerable or at-risk populations have the perceived luxury of being more “lax” in their social media policies – forgoing concerns of confidentiality, cultural competency, or liability.

Public organizations are often times held to different legal and ethical policies that require much more detail and time spent towards considering where social media can help service provision and clinical work.

Social networking sites are intended to provide quick access and instant information dissemination to a specific group of people. So how do organizations working with vulnerable populations balance justified ethical concerns with the incredible potential of social media? While I may not have the magic answer, a well-developed social media policy is a good place to start.

To help anticipate all possible outcomes of social media use – both good and bad – social workers need to make sure that if they are planning (and able) to use these tools in their practice, they have a strong, carefully thought out social media policy to guide them. Especially considering that there are resources and examples out there of how caseworkers and clinicians can correctly use social media in their work, an effective social media policy can develop a “treatment plan” for using these tools while also developing a “safety plan” for when issues arise.

Whether you are in a government agency, a nonprofit, or a private practice, a social media strategy that outlines your specific goals of using the tool, your disclosure and participation policies, and how the tools will be used will help address ethical and legal considerations while also creating a foundation for keeping pace with evolving social media trends.

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