Social Work & Social Media: Where are the Ethical Boundaries?

Jul 12, 2011

The NASW News recently posted an article about social media’s impact on the social work profession.  This article discussed both the ups and downs of social media, highlighting the benefits of recruiting social workers and increasing communication among professionals.  In the technology world, exciting new therapeutic possibilities via new technologies, such as Skype, are becoming more and more prevalent. These new technologies also bring to question where the ethical boundaries are in relation to clients, social workers, and social media.

Social media lends itself to a multitude of possible ethical issues: conflict of interest, privacy and confidentiality, inappropriate self-disclosure, and even dual relationships.  Where should a social worker draw the line with a client?  Is it ever ok to accept a friend request?  Is looking at a client’s profile or blog an invasion of privacy or does it provide beneficial information, especially in emergency situations?  How can you make sure communications between a client and clinician are kept confidential?

One suggestion has been that agencies have a social networking policy that is regularly updated and shared with clients.  This type of policy establishes fixed boundaries that may eliminate some gray areas on an agency-to-agency basis, although this does not set an overall professional standard.  The best policy would probably be to refer to the NASW Code of Ethics, Section 4.03: “Social workers should not permit their private conduct to interfere with their ability to fulfill their professional responsibilities.”  You can also view the NASW and Association of Social Work Board’s Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice. Social workers have a lot to consider before posting a blog or status.  Your personal life could affect your professional responsibilities.

Where do you draw the line with social media and professional life?