Social Media: What is the policy where you work?

Why do you need a social media policy? There are two reasons you need a policy: risk management and ethical practice. How soon do you think it will be before someone records a therapeutic session, a group, a conversation, or a meeting (without your consent) and it ends up on social media? Some states only need consent of one person in the recording. The recording can be removed, but if at any time it goes viral it will never be off the Internet. Malpractice is a broad area. When you send something out through social media outlets, how do you vet the impact of this information? Cases of social media and ethical misconduct are already surfacing. New ethical dilemmas present themselves with new technology. What happens if we are on the Internet and find our client has posted an inappropriate video? People are videotaping themselves harming children or participating in unlawful and high risk situations. A social media policy is needed to protect the client, the social worker, and the organization.

No matter the setting, speak with you supervisor, dean or director and ask for the social media policy. This policy should include standards for employees and digital boundaries for clients. The consent for treatment should outline social media expectations and limits. Clients should know what to expect from their social worker in terms of social media and an explanation of the social worker, organization, and client’s social media behavior should be explicit and thoroughly explained. Use of video and audio recordings, computer behavior, and phone usage should be outlined. Teenagers may not think it is an issue to post about their therapy or another group members behavior therefore digital boundaries need to be defined for each population.

The following are areas to review in regard to your social media policy:

When was it drafted?  Social media innovation and laws surrounding it change on a regular basis. If your draft is over a year old, it may need updating.

Which areas does it include?

Here is a list of areas to consider:

  1. Cell phone privacy (passwords, theft management, texting, e-mails, social media involvement through apps)
  2. Security of confidential information at home and at the office on digital devices
  3. HIPAA or FERPA considerations?
  4. State laws versus federal laws
  5. Personal social media behavior negatively affecting the organization
  6. Client social media behavior

Do the rules expand into your personal life? There are some ways organizations can limit your personal behavior on social media. Identify which of these areas are lawful and which are not.

How does it protect you? What happens if you are the target of a social media attack or incorrect information is posted about you online? Have a policy and procedure addressing the event of a negative social media instance. This policy should address individual and organization negative publicity.

What happens if you don’t follow the policy? What are the consequences to each infraction? Is there a method to revise a policy when it becomes out of date? What if you have an unintended breach of ethics due to technological ignorance?

How legal is it?A policy can say anything with good intentions, but it still may not be legal. Obtain professional council about your policy.

The Canadian Association of Social Workers recently released a “Social Media Use in Social Work Practice” manual. This manual is the start of defining ethical behaviors specifically for social workers using social media.

How does your organization implement their social media policies?


Written By Ellen Belluomini, LCSW

Social Media: What is the policy where you work? was originally published @ Bridging the Digital Divide in Social Work Practice and has been syndicated with permission.


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