Social Work, Social Action and Social Media

The other day i thought about a whole lot of topics to write about that would help me explore ideas via blogging about them – now I can’t remember any of them..

It’s interesting that as many of my friends are now in their middle age many of us are becoming more activist. People i’ve known who I’d never thought of being political are now busy researching and sharing information for the rest of us to consider and setting up opportunites for us to particpate by demonstrations and actions, submissions, select committee hearings, voting, talking to our MPs and other political representatives, supporting political lobby groups and political parties…

I think it’s an interesting phenomonen and at first I wondered whether it’s to do with the fact that we have had 3 years of a right wing government in NZ.- a government that seems hell bent of increasing the gap between rich and poor by welfare reforms which  put even more children into poverty, sold public assets unashamedly, allowed both our land and seas to be pillaged by foreign owned companies. insisted on ridiculous ways of measuring childrens  and schools) performance that set up competitive ‘league tables’ between schools and took huge resources out of the education system..and there is more but it’s depressing.

Again, this is not the first time that we have had to resist some pretty awful stuff from our political leaders and I’m wondering why it seems to be now, that people – mostly women actually in their 50s – with newly grown children and some no longer with responsibilites for ageing parents and relatives, are getting politically active.  I think the role of social media and it’s ease of use and possibilites have been very inspiring to many people.  Added to the tools, there seems to be a resurgence of smaller social entrepenurial groups with different agendas – but many links across and again, using social media to connect and share resources and link supporters.

This raises the issue of privacy if we decide, as part of our social work role, to become social activists with a public profile.

I’ve been thinking about the issue of public and private personas in professional social work. I come from a tradition where we were told by employers not to ‘put our names in the phone book’ so that unhappy clients could not easily track you down and where when in a teaching role, we were told explicitly that we should not let students know our political views as this was a potentially  innappropriate use of our power as teachers.   Things are very different now.

For starters, if we decide to become politically engaged while in professional roles its relatively easy for people to find out about us..try seeing how many images of you there are on the web for example.

What does this mean for professional boundaries?  I agree with Neil Ballentyne and others who say that actually we must embrace learning to use social media safely, and that rather than employers trying to control media use by staff, a much healthier response is to allow staff to use it, encourage safe and ethical practice around its use and ensure that it becomes a tool for empowerment  of people we work with.  The principles which underpin our professional and ethical codes give us a clear starting point for managing our use of social media.  I agree that it would be useful to be able to tease out some more detail and that this is something our professional association could lead.

For contemporary social workers not to be able to mine the possibilites of the WWW for connecting to services, staying current be accessing the latest thinking on a topic, taking advantage of the myriad of online learning possibilites through informal sources such as youtube AND supporting the people they work with to do the same, means that they are selling those they work with , short.

Research into different occupational groups use of technology in the early 200s suggested that social workers generally were late adopters.  The perception was that we do things kanohi a kanohi – face to face as a preferred way of interacting. An online forum I set up for social workers  (most of  experienced, older workers) in 2006 who were supervising students on placement had very little uptake. One of the significant barriers was that people felt uncomfortable with the technology, with the means of communicating, even though they were not able to access the face to face meetings because of work commitments and geographical spread. This has changed in the last 5 years and we are now, most of us, comfortable with the use of many of the new tools.

I realise that I have strayed somewhat from what got me started thinking about just why it is that so many of my friends, not all of them SWs, have become activists in mid life. maybe I will leave that for another post.