Social Workers & Social Media: a webinar debating the issues for Social Work students

An inter professional discussion

Academics with Open University and Salford University debate the issues of professionalism and social media for social workers and students in practice placements.

Introduction

Access to the Internet and social media through a range of mobile communication devices has fundamentally changed the way in which all of us communicate and behave. The profession of Social Work has also been affected by this change in a range of areas that include serious case reviews; court judgements and professionalism.

This webinar will allow students to consider how the profession of Social Work is responding to challenges and opportunities that have arisen due to social media.  Specifically, the webinar will begin by focusing on important questions that social work students need to reflect on about their own use of social media, as well as how social media impacts upon professionalism.  Students will also hear the latest research in relation to how Social Workers practitioners are using social media in their practice.

Those contributing to the webinar include:

Dr Gemma Sinead Ryan, The Open University

Gemma has a diverse background as a qualified teacher with QTLS/QTS, and is also a registered adult nurse and nurse teacher.  Her experience includes secondary, further and higher education (maths, biology, health & social care, research and evidence-based practice), research management, private and NHS healthcare (community and acute setting).  She retains a clinical nursing role as a bank nurse for BUPA care.

Research interests

Gemma currently works on a range of research projects with a particular interest in professionalism, accountability (including the legal aspects of this), online social networks and social media in healthcare and healthcare education. Gemma’s ongoing research involves raising awareness of, assessment and decision making for [un]professional behaviours of professionals on social media, ‘e-professionalism’ policy, guidance and interventions, realist review into OSN and SM interventions for reducing obesity.  Other interests include realist ethnography and realist methodologies.

View a summary of her recent research here.

Dr Joanne Westwood, University of Salford

Dr Joanne Westwood is currently Assistant Director and (interim) Head of Social Work in the School of Health and Society at the University of Salford.  Working in collaboration with several academics from across the UK Joanne has led research and evaluation projects which promote and apply technological developments for teaching/learning and for professional social work practice. In 2014 Joanne edited a collection of work entitled Social Media in Social Work Education, and has written several book chapters, and delivered guest lectures on this topic.

Research Interests

Joanne is particularly interested in how students and practitioners use social media, how they manage the tensions between the personal and the professional and how organisations develop social media policies.

Jenny Simpson, Head of Social Work (England), The Open University

Jenny Simpson took up post as Head of Social Work (England) in September 2017.  Previously she worked as a regional academic manager working for The Open University, on its undergraduate social work programme in the south of England. As a social work practitioner, she specialised in children and family social work, in particular foster care. She has also worked extensively with educational establishments in the area of child protection and building resilience in Looked After Children.

Research interests

Jenny is currently undertaking a PhD with Edinburgh University where the focus of her research is Looked After Children and issues related to contact.   Her study of this area provides an opportunity, unlike existing research, to capture how  contact between LAC and their birth families has changed as a result of 3G telecommunications and social media, and whether or not there is a tangible impact in terms of key areas of local authority care e.g. placement stability; reunification and safeguarding.

Paul O Onyango, University of Bedfordshire, PhD student

Paul is currently undertaking his PhD at the University of Bedfordshire.  Before embarking in his PhD Paul  spent a period of 18 years in practice UK and international social work practice where the emphasis was targeted at bringing a sense of understanding and devising a person-centred way of working with children, young people and their families who have been through various family related traumatic/stressful experience.

Research Interests

Paul’s research interest touches on social work, technology and human services, social services provision to victims of domestic violence, social services role in supporting UASC in England, social work response to cases of Child Sexual Exploitation in England and social services support of young Black male in the Criminal Justice system in England.

 

Professional accountability in social media

The concept of e-professionalism or e-accountability can be defined as, ‘the attitudes and behaviours reflecting traditional professional paradigms that are manifested through digital media’ (Cain & Romanelli, 2009:1). Despite professional guidance and organisational policy being in place for several years, literature outlines issues associated with e-professionalism. For the public, this sends an inconsistent message and can lead to loss of confidence in nurses/the profession. For nursing students, evidence suggests the need for further guidance and input from educators, though the nursing profession has not reached explicit consensus about what ‘unprofessional’ behaviour is (e.g. why are pictures of drinking alcohol deemed as unprofessional when it is legal and acceptable to be doing this in the physical world?) While one nurse will assess a particular behaviour to be unprofessional, another will see it as simply unacceptable; hence, the outcome and consequences of reported and observed ‘incidents’ on social media vary significantly.

The A2A (Awareness to Action) decision making tool has been developed as part of a 42-month ethnographic study that conducted semi-structured interviews, focus groups [with nurses and nursing students] and online observations of publicly accessible professional groups. The study found that:

  1. There is an awareness of e-professionalism and accountability on social media but social, political and personal events impact on the perception and subsequent actions of nurses. For example, swearing and bullying is deemed as unprofessional, but when responding to posts about NHS reforms this was ‘accepted’ by the wider nursing community.
  2. Nurse perceptions and understanding of behaviours that require ‘action’ to be taken is inconsistent (e.g. what one nurse would discipline, another might just view as unacceptable, not unprofessional and thus, take no action).
  3. Nurses perceived self-efficacy (awareness) is inconsistent with ‘actual’ observed behaviours (i.e. what individuals think they do and share is not what they actually do).
  4. The above findings result in confusion, inconsistency and reluctance to report incidents:

– that are actually unprofessional and require further investigation

– professional penalties against acceptable or unacceptable [rather than unprofessional] behaviours (e.g. photos of drinking alcohol being shared with friends)

– the removal of online posts, investigations and/or disciplinary action for behaviours that are actually professional; serving a genuine purpose within the parameters of the NMC code (2015; 2016).

When discussing what actions would be challenged in physical practice, and why such actions would not be challenged in Facebook there were three main reasons identified: a lack of clarity, context and confirmability.