In some ways, the internet broadens our world and helps us connect with clients, market, and create a supportive and awesome community. In other ways, it can create an unintentional fishbowl. If your client is in their 20s, 30s, or younger, without a doubt, social media is a part of their lives. Social media is so mainstream and normalized now. Do social workers have an ethical responsibility to restrict themselves from enjoying online hobbies that “regular” non-therapist folks can? Social media ethics come up quite a big in Ask Allison, so let’s talk about it! As clinicians, should our social media use be private?
I’ll own my Gen X’er-ness here. But I’ll also own that as I work to decolonize my practice and my businesses, I’m questioning so much of what I assumed was vital. If you missed the Abundant Practice Podcast with Shawna Murray Browne on decolonizing private practice, check it out. Lots of food for thought.
I can make an argument for your personal Facebook and personal Instagram being private if you’re posting personal things. Or you have relatives likely to comment with random personal information. If your ex might try to flirt with you in the comments, those are all good arguments for a private Facebook account. I like having these be private because you can say or do whatever you want without thinking through clinical implications or worry about TMI or oversharing. These accounts are your way to privately communicate with people in your life who don’t participate in your clinical practice.
Suppose you’re not using social media to market and have a public blog, or Instagram, or YouTube for hobbies like skincare product reviews and tutorials or for sharing in a hobby-based community. In that case, I’d recommend being thoughtful about what you post and how it might impact clients. For instance, definitely don’t talk about having a lack of empathy at work today or feeling like your clients would never shut up knowing the client you saw today could see that.
I think your theoretical orientation also plays a role. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find a ton of psychoanalytic folks with no holds barred public accounts.
What to share publicly and what to share privately also comes down to the context of the post, the content itself, and how it impacts your clients. If it’s harmful in obvious ways (passive-aggressive, racist, sex-shaming, body-shaming, spreads misinformation), it’s an obvious no. If it’s toxic in sneaky ways, think through things from your clients’ perspectives. I love this movement from a couple of months ago of doctors posting pics in bikinis in support after a doctor on vacation was shamed for posting bikini pics, a lot of people claiming she was unprofessional. Therapists posting pictures in bikinis will have a different context. It could be empowering or sexualized, or disconcerting depending on your niche and how you work. We have to be intentional with our posts and think a trend through before hopping on the wagon.
I tend to follow back the public Instagram pages that follow me, and sometimes, I’ll see frequent pics of obviously hard-partying therapists out at the club with their friends on their business Instagram. Usually, these photos don’t have captions, so there’s no context for potential clients And how they could be received. I don’t think that’s a great idea, but I also don’t know the context. A potential client might feel differently if it’s evident you’re at a wedding versus a significant clinical training and speaking event.
So with intentionality, I am not concerned about Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube. Or even OnlyFans. We’re all adults here. As always, my main disclaimer is: I’m not the judge of anyone’s accounts but my own, and I’m not an ethics expert. You’re on a great track if you’re mindful and aware of how you approach your social media accounts.