This chapter provides information for multi-agency practitioners about how to keep safe, both professionally and personally, when using social media.
This guidance provides information about how to minimise risk to yourself, and others, whilst using social media sites. Commonly used social media sites include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content such as videos and photographs.
As a health or social care professional it is your responsibility to protect yourself as far as possible from allegations of wrongdoing online and whilst using digital technology, to avoid potentially inappropriate or damaging situations. As your job involves direct work with adults and their families who may be experiencing challenging and stressful circumstances, it is possible that some people may post information online about staff or the service that is wrong or upsetting.
It is vital therefore that, in order to protect the reputation of the organisation and staff, the response is always professional, proportionate and measured.
In such situations, managers may need to respond to and take action against those posting such material; guidance is provided below to help protect staff and volunteers working with the public.
2. Steps to Minimise Risk
2.1 Privacy settings and passwords
Check your privacy settings across all social networks. This can be done by going to ‘Settings’ and reviewing the current privacy settings. Updating privacy settings is vital to being able to protect yourself online and is just as important as keeping a credit card safe, for example.
The privacy settings of some social media sites can be set up to send posts just to particular groups, such as close friends, rather than all ‘friends’. Such options are worth considering when thinking about sharing information that you would not necessarily want all people to know.
Remember some information cannot be hidden however tight privacy settings. Names and profile images will always be visible on Facebook for example, so choose images or photos carefully.
By logging out of your social networks and then searching for yourself you can see how your profile appears to the public.
Regularly update your passwords. Do not use the same one across all social media accounts. This will help avoid someone hacking into your account and posting inappropriate status updates or images.
You can also make it more difficult to be found online, by changing your name or surname for example.
2.2 Connect wisely
Many people have far more friends on social media than they know personally. But it is wise only to connect with people that you know and trust. Even people you know, however, may post comments or share material that you do not like or agree with.
In such cases think about whether to ‘unfriend’ that person rather than be associated with someone whose views you do not share.
If it is someone you know and like, discuss their posts with them if you find it uncomfortable.
Consider the purpose of the site, and use it accordingly. For example, LinkedIn is for professional connections. It is best, therefore, not to accept requests to connect if the message contains suspicious text or the person seems to have no connections, location, education or vocation similar to you.
2.3.1 Personal information
Think carefully before you post photos and text.
If you would not say it in public or to your manager, or want them to see certain images, you should not put it on social media however tight your privacy settings. Online friends can share or repost / re-tweet your updates, so you can lose control of what you say and display.
Remember, some things are best only shared in person or by telephone or even not at all, not via social media including email.
It is illegal to access or download material that promotes or shows criminal behaviour. Do not access any illegal or inappropriate websites on your personal computer or mobile phone, not even for personal or professional research purposes. This includes illegal or inappropriate images of children, some pornography or extremist websites.
Photos and texts sent to mobile phones and tablets can also be shared by others, so be careful what you send to others or what images you allow people to take of you. Sometimes images are accompanied by personal information, including name, address and links to their social media profiles. Sharing certain private images or films may be an offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. It applies both on and offline, and to images which are shared electronically or more traditionally so includes uploading of images on the internet, sharing by text and email, or showing someone a physical or electronic image.
Be careful using social media whilst under the influence of alcohol. Whilst your own posts can be edited the next day, there is often not much that can be done about other people’s replies.
Take care when in contact with others via web cam internet sites (for example chat rooms, message boards, social networking sites and newsgroups). Avoid inappropriate communication with anyone you think may be under 18, or anyone with whom who you may be considered to be in a position of trust. Avoid inappropriate communication with those who you do not know. Adults can pose as children using interactive technology; likewise some children can pose as adults.
2.3.2 Professional Information
Posting information in relation to adults with whom you work, or their family or friends, is allowed. This is likely to be a breach of data protection legislation and confidentiality requirements (see Data Protection: Legislation and Guidance chapter), and even if it is illegal, it is professionally unethical and may result in disciplinary action being taken. For example, families have seen and subsequently made formal complaints about social workers who – whilst not disclosing any personal information – have posted following court cases which have found in the local authority’s favour.
Posting information about work colleagues of any grade, whilst not illegal, is not advised. It can damage working relationships and cause difficulties in the work environment. Again, it may lead to disciplinary action being taken.
Consider also the possible implications of out of office hours discussions with colleagues via social media about controversial issues such as politics, for example. Working relationships can sometimes be negatively affected by such disagreements.
2.4 Review content
If you have used social media accounts over a number of years, it may be useful to review earlier entries to see if there is any content you posted when you were younger that you would not now post. If so, it would be best to delete it.
Check what others post about you, as this also contributes to your social media profile even if you did not post it yourself. If you are not happy with being tagged in a particular photo or status update, contact the person or organisation concerned via messaging or email (rather than via a public discussion) and politely ask them to remove it, explaining why.
Getting content taken down by the social media company can be difficult and may have to involve the police, which should only be reserved for extreme cases.
2.5 Act wisely
Whilst you should always share personal information with caution, in particular do not contact adults or their families via personal email, social media or telephone. This includes former users of the service. If you wish to keep in contact with any such person, only use work emails or telephone numbers to communicate with them. Discuss your intention with your line manager in advance, and seek their advice.
In order to further protect yourself, do not geotag or location tag your photographs. Whilst the photos might not be easily identifiable, the location could lead to identification and let others know your whereabouts including your home address or those of your family and friends.
Ensure you follow your organisation’s Acceptable Use Policy / IT and email procedures. If you breach any part, report it immediately to your manager or other designated member of staff, as set out in the policy.
If there is any incident regarding the use of social media that concerns you, report it immediately to your line manager. Document it as soon as possible, according to your workplace procedures.
4. In Summary
Use common sense and professional judgement at all times to avoid circumstances which are, or as importantly could be viewed by others, to be inappropriate.
Remember, computers, tablets and mobile phone technology may be the virtual world, but they very much impact on real life. Treat people the same through electronic communications as you would on a personal basis.
- Think carefully before you post anything online;
- Search on your own name to see what others can see about you and take action if there is anything that makes you feel uncomfortable;
- Protect and regularly change your passwords;
- Regularly review your privacy settings;
- Make it more difficult to be found online (for example, change your surname).
- Use inappropriate language;
- Expect your friends or family to know how to protect your online reputation and how information they may post could impact on you professionally;
- Have a public social media presence – do not set your privacy settings to public unless relevant;
Tag yourself or allow yourself to be tagged photos or videos;
Accept or send friend requests to adults who you have met through the course of your work who use services, their family or friends.