Faculty of Education and Social Work

Professionalism and the use of social media

The faculty launched its Facebook page in March 2011. Here are practical guidelines for the use of social media to help you maintain professional standards in social work, counselling, human services and teaching.  

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1. Establish and sustain an online presence that is consistent with your professional responsibilities while representing your interests. Be selective in which channels and places you establish a profile.

Maintain professional ethics in your profile and postings. Most professions hold to the ethical principles of autonomy (treating people with rights that are to be honoured and defended), justice (sharing power and preventing the abuse of power), responsible care (doing good and minimising harm to others), and truth (being honest with others and self).¹


2. Use privacy controls to manage more personal aspects of your online profile and do not make anything public that you would not be comfortable defending as professionally appropriate in a court of law.

Manage access to different parts of your profile: the professional dimensions of your profile may be more public and the personal dimensions more private. Without the ability to manage different parts of your life they will tend to blur together with possibly serious consequences.


3. Think carefully and critically about how what you say or do will be perceived by others and act with appropriate restraint in online communications.

Reflect on how your actions will be perceived by others: most of you reading this will have personal experiences where an email has been lacking in sensitivity as to how it was received. The reception and reinterpretation of online postings can be even harder to judge without taking a clear, conscientious approach to writing and posting online.


4. Think carefully and critically about how what you say or do reflects on others, both individuals and organisations, and act accordingly.

Consider how your actions will reflect on your profession and institution: even if an act is appropriate in one context it may not be in another. This is a particular issue for individuals linked to a profession or to an institution such as a university, school, centre or agency. The actions of the individual may be seen as reflecting or criticising the position of the institution even if this was not the intended result.

Remember that it is not just about preserving the confidentiality of a child, student, teacher, client or situation but it is ensuring that they cannot be identified by the full set of information that you have posted.

5. Think carefully and critically about how what you say or do will be perceived in years to come; consider every action online as permanent.


Dealing with ambient and permanent surveillance: almost everything you do online can be monitored and recorded. For instance, if you have ever searched using Google then your searches and the items you selected are recorded as a part of a profile that Google holds about you. Similarly, all actions on social networking sites like Facebook are recorded for posterity. Comments and postings may still be visible years later and could, for instance, impact on an individual’s ability to get or
retain a job.


6. Be aware of the potential for attack or impersonation, and know how to protect your online reputation and what steps to take when it is under attack.

Dealing with hostile acts: the online environment can be a medium for attack as well as camaraderie. Individuals may seek to tarnish or even destroy another’s reputation online or impersonate them (identity theft). Clearly these could be particularly significant problems for teaching and social services professionals.

7. An online community is still a community and you are still a professional within it.


Work responsibly and positively within online communities: although there may not be the same explicit duties of service and care within an online community the professional’s role within society should extend to the virtual as well as to the real.

¹New Zealand Teachers Council Code of Ethics

Adapted from: Ellaway, R. (2010). eMedical Teacher Medical Teacher, 32: 705-707