Social Workers and Agencies: How to Avoid Sexual Misconduct Issues on Social Media

Social Workers and Agencies: How to Avoid Sexual Misconduct Issues on Social Media

Becky Anthony (Salisbury University, USA) and Jayleen Galarza (Shippensburg University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0657-7.ch008


Social media are shaping and changing the way social workers interact with clients; therefore, it is important for social workers to think about their own personal and professional presence on social media. The focus of this chapter is to provide social workers with strategies and guidelines about how best to utilize social media in hopes of avoiding sexual misconduct violations. One of the key factors involved in preventing sexual misconduct issues on social media is a well-thought out and critically designed presence. In order to establish an agenda for appropriately integrating and utilizing social media, agencies are recommended to develop the following: goals, social media policy, and publically posted guidelines. With implementation of policies and guidelines, human service agencies can more effectively prevent allegations of sexual misconduct.
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Social media are shaping and changing the way social workers interact with clients. Social workers are able to utilize these new technologies to help clients identify new sources for information; to connect clients to online resources, such as support groups; and to provide e-therapy (Castelnuovo, Gaggioli, Mantovani, & Riva, 2003). However, several authors (Reamer, 2013; Strom-Grottfried, Thomas, & Anderson, 2014) have expressed ethical concerns about social workers utilizing social media, both professionally and personally.

Khan (2013) defined social media as “Internet-based technologies/tools/concept that allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content while letting users establish (at least one of these) identity, conversations, connectivity (i.e. presence), relationships, reputation, groups, and share contents” (p. 2). Examples include: Wikis, blogs, and specific content sharing sites such as YouTube. Social Networking Sites (SNSs) are defined by Boyd and Ellison (2007) as “web-based services that allow individuals to a. construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, b. articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection and c. view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (p. 1-2). Examples of SNSs include: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Social media represent a term that encompasses both social media and social networking sites and refers to websites that allow users to form relationships and connect with others in a virtual space.

Social media can provide a number of opportunities for clinical social workers to help clients. Khan, Swar, and Lee (2014) discussed a number of benefits for public sector employees, including: social connectivity, social involvement, information attainment, and entertainment. Their list of benefits also connected with Curtis et al. (2010) research. Curtis et al. (2010) suggested that social media is beneficial for public sector employees because it increases communication. For social workers, it can increase communication with potential clients, current clients, and other service providers.

Although there are clear benefits to integrating social media into social work practice, social media are associated with a number of risks. Strom-Gottfried, Thomas, and Anderson (2014) and Dombo, Kays, and Weller (2014) suggested risks include: lack of privacy for clients; professional boundary violations; increased and sometimes unknown social worker self-disclosure; and increased connectivity, which can encourage clients to believe that the social worker is available at all times. With this increased connectivity between social work professionals and clients, boundaries can be violated. On the National Association for Social Workers (NASW) Social Work Blog (2011) it was noted that social media usage can cause social workers to struggle with values conflicts, dual relationships, lack of privacy, and confidentiality concerns.

These violations can occur in a variety of ways, but sexual misconduct violations can be especially dangerous to the client’s welfare and the social worker’s professional abilities, as well as damaging the agency or educational institution they represent. Sexual misconduct for a social worker includes engaging in verbal, physical, or visual sexual activities with clients (Shakeshaft, 2013). The authors suggest that sexual misconduct through the use of social media could include: sexual or romantic talk; sharing of pornography; and digital exhibitionism, such as sharing a naked photo or video of self.

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