This chapter provides information for staff about how to keep safe, both professionally and personally, when using social media.
February 2019: This chapter was updated to include a link to guidance published by the Health and Care Professions Council, as above.
This guidance provides information about how to minimise risk to yourself, and others, whilst using social media sites.
As a social care professional the onus is upon you to protect yourself from allegations of wrongdoing online and whilst using digital technology, in order to avoid potentially inappropriate or damaging situations. As your role involves direct work with individuals and families in challenging and stressful situations, there is a risk that people with whom your service works may, at times, post information about staff or the service that is erroneous, libellous and / 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 all 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.
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 or you maybe seen by others as not trying to counteract.
If it is someone you know and like, discuss their posts with them if you find it uncomfortable.
Not all social media sites operate for the same purpose. Consider the purpose of the site, and act accordingly. For example, LinkedIn is for professional connections. It is not wise, therefore, 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 depicts 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. Distributing 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 or if you are feeling upset or distressed in any way. 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 individuals you think may be under 18, or those with who you may 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 service users with whom you work, or their family or friends, is not permissible. This is a potential breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 (see Information Sharing and Confidentiality), and even where it is not strictly 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 comments following court cases which have found in the local authority’s favour.
Posting information about work colleagues of any grade, whilst not illegal, is inadvisable. It can damage working relationships and cause difficulties in the office environment. Again, it may lead to disciplinary action being taken.
If in the course of your work you see an adult or child who you think may have physical injuries or signs of abuse or neglect, seek advice from your manager or designated safeguarding manager before taking photographs for evidential purposes on a mobile phone or tablet, and record the guidance they give you. This is to avoid unnecessary allegations being levelled at you where your actions could be misinterpreted. If the advice is not to take photographs, mark the site of the injuries on a body map, make a written record and refer your concerns in the usual way.
Consider the implications of out of office hours discussions with colleagues via social media about contentious issues such as politics, for example. Working relationships can sometimes be adversely 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.
Monitor 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 give email addresses or mobile telephone numbers to anyone who is, or has been, a service user or members of their family. 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.
Ensure you adhere to your organisation’s Acceptable Use Policy / IT and email procedures. If you breach any part of them, report it voluntarily immediately to your manager or designated other, as per the procedures.
If there is any incident related to this guidance, which causes you concern, 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.