Today, judging from the widespread usage of virtual social networking on both professional and individuals’ levels, ethical concepts involved in its use is becoming increasingly complex. Ethical concerns surrounding online social networking among social work practitioners have fast become a perennial issue since Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs) and government agencies jumped on the band wagon of utilizing social media platforms for fundraising/promotional activities of charity or community events. Despite unresolved concerns for social work ethics including breach of confidentiality and risk of harm to clients, there is still no regulation established to address them.
Despite a lack of formal regulation in managing social work practitioners’ use of social media platforms, it is undoubtedly vital to exercise certain levels of discretion in their online activities and behaviors in their everyday lives. Conceptually, activities on social media platforms are no different from activities in public domains. Hence, social work practitioners need to conduct themselves with the same decorum as they would in public.
On an organizational front, it is a management imperative to have regulations with regard to the use of social media platforms in place for employees. While it may not be realistic to regulate every Facebook post/comment from each employee, it is still important to convey a consistent message that the exercising of professionalism in social work practitioners goes beyond their working hours and physical workspaces.
On an individual level, it is also crucial for social work practitioners to impose self-governing measures to manage their personal social media accounts with caution. Social work practitioners who are active in their social media platforms need to possess knowledge to put appropriate privacy settings in place and purposefully exercise discretion in their social media activities/involvement. The impact of not understanding rules of privacy settings on Facebook is akin to practitioners having a lack of work-related training to perform adequately in their jobs.
I would propose each agency to come up guidelines in maintaining appropriate use of social media usage among social work practitioners. IT-related instructions on observing certain privacy settings and data protection related knowledge on social media sites should also be included in the guidelines. Taking this step too contributes to the ongoing development of good practices in social service agencies, not unlike the development of the newly implemented Code of Social Work Practice in FSCs (CSWP).
As for Selena’s case, it is certainly unfortunate that her private information got leaked on a social media site. However, due to the gravity of the matter, damage control measures such as deleting her Facebook account and even other social media accounts should be discussed with her supervisor. As for Selena’s clinical relationship with Andy, a case transfer to another worker and/or agency would also need to be considered.