Editor’s Note: To read NASW’s Standards For Technology and Social Work Practice, click here.
Six years ago, I was running a girls group in a middle school in the south Bronx and the topic of conversation was the gossip and fighting that was happening on MySpace. MySpace, now an antiquated social networking site and the predecessor to Facebook, was one of the first ways to create social communities online with profiles, Internet chat, messaging, and media sharing. The discussion with these students focused on things like, “did you see this picture of that girl?”, “did you see what he wrote on my wall?”, and “can you believe she put me on her top friends list?”
Within seconds, I was faced with these questions: How do I address MySpace in practice? Is what happens on the Internet even real life? What questions should I be asking them? And, embarrassingly I wondered, did they see MY MySpace page??? I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions. I went to the literature and came up empty handed. This girls group became a catalyst for my interest in online culture, social work and technology, and eventually, my doctoral research.
The idea for this blog has been jumping around in my mind for over a year. I am a full time social worker (I work in a school on behalf of a domestic violence agency) and I’m a full time doctoral student (although I hope to lose this title in the next few months). Also, I am a young and hip social worker who has an iPhone, a website, is on Facebook, Linked-in, and Twitter. I blog, I text, I post videos on YouTube. Do these facets of my life contradict one another? Do they need to be compartmentalized? What is the rub between social work and the online world?
We are in a social revolution. Human behavior is changing. The way we are social is changing. So, social work should change too. The Internet is a cornerstone of human interaction and there’s no point in fighting it. But, as social workers, we are doing a disservice to our clients and ourselves if we ignore technology’s role in practice, policy, and community building, and social justice.
Despite the fact that NASW has partnered with the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) to draw up standards for technology and social work practice, we, as social workers, are still not discussing technology enough. We aren’t delving into discussions about the impacts, the pros and cons, and the concerns. We certainly aren’t having open conversations about texting with clients, being friends on Facebook with them, or what happens when we see a client on JDate (true story). Functioning online with clients has become taboo. When something is taboo, it can be anxiety provoking. Let’s open this up and talk about it!
My purpose as a guest blogger is to open up conversation about technology and social work. I do not have all the answers. In fact, I may not have any of the answers. But I’m here to plant seeds and watch our conversation grow, without any judgments. With time, we will find the answers together. As they say in the biz, it’s a process.
TAKE ACTION NOW: LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND TELL ME HOW TECHNOLOGY IS COMING UP IN YOUR PRACTICE! WE WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IT! Do you have a burning question about social work and technology? Is something coming up in practice that you are struggling with? Email us and we may highlight it in this blog.
Liz Lasky, LCSW, is a full-time social worker in a middle school and is a doctoral candidate who studies cyberbullying, online culture, and technology and social work. She lives in New York City.