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The professional use of social media by social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand


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The novelty of social media provides a "wide open" space for social work research. Multiple questions are accumulating about practice relevance, professionalism, technical and ethical competence. Social work ethicist, Frederic Reamer (2017), describes the advent of social media as warranting our "explicit and sustained attention," and depicts the task ahead as "the newest frontier in social work's noble efforts to keep pace with the times and develop ethically-informed innovations to meet the needs of vulnerable people and communities" (p. 10). There is an urgent call for research and for social work students to be taught a critical approach to social media which "encompasses benefits and challenges that create ethical issues and have impacts that cannot be understood in simple, binary, or linear ways" (Boddy & Dominelli, 2017, p. 3). The first phase of this exploratory, mixed methods study of Aotearoa New Zealand social workers and social media was initiated in 2013. The findings from analysis of 342 online survey responses showed a reticence amongst participants about the value of social media, citing concern about privacy, security and ethical issues as primary barriers to its professional use. Eleven key informants were interviewed concurrently to generate deeper insight into these daily practice realities. These participants, predominantly experienced users of social media as professionals, and/or leaders across various fields of practice offered ideas about the relevance of social media to the profession, its value in networking, generation of knowledge, communication and strategies for overcoming barriers to effective use. Participants in focus groups held in phase two of the project were asked to consider the source and extent of their knowledge about social media, what more they wanted to know and how they could best develop this knowledge. The creative energy of these groups sparked ideas for professional development and grassroots application of practice principles, skills, and cultural knowledge to professional social media use. The general enthusiasm for social media, especially for social action, was tempered with deep caution about using social media in managerial, risk-averse practice environments. A critical analysis of all data raised questions about the link between theory and practice, opening scope for deeper understanding of the lived experience of social media use in practice. Participants called for leadership, greater critical understanding of social media in society, ethical guidance and the establishment of 'ground up' best practice examples. Findings highlight how motivation behind, and knowledge about, social media use is fundamentally connected with social work identity. They highlight the extent to which forces of neoliberalism weave their way into attitudes and ethical decision making about social media, and how the dichotomy of the promise and perils of social media continues to confound, confuse and limit us in our development of expertise as a profession. The findings also suggest that social workers have the capacity and confidence to create a unique relationship with social media based on social work principles, practice wisdom and the unique cultural attributes of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Item Type: Thesis (['eprint_fieldopt_thesis_type_phd' not defined])
Uncontrolled Keywords: social work, social media, technology, social work identity, Aotearoa New Zealand
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: Schools > Centre for Health & Social Practice
Depositing User: Deb Stanfield
Date Deposited: 18 Sep 2019 01:32
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 08:18

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