Although social media use has grown dramatically, program policies have not kept pace. Some programs now state that student social media activities have led to professional conduct reviews and may violate ethical standards.
This article reviews current social media policies and conceptualizes their key elements. A review of current social media policies is reported, pointing to the need for further policy development. Six domains of a social media policy are identified:
A model social media policy is provided in the appendices, and unresolved issues are identified. These starting points should help guide future social media policy development in social work.
Areas for future research and policy development
Although social media polices have been developed and implemented by some institutions, further empirical research is needed in the new area of social scholarship. The elements of the social media policy presented here are based on strong scholarship and emerging ethical and legal concerns affecting social work education. Although we believe that social media policies can be valuable educationally and practically, there is very little empirical support for this claim. Social work program administrators should conduct research on how such policies affect students’ development of professional identity and behavior, preparedness to practice, and digital literacy. Programs, faculty, practitioners and the public should all be part of evaluating how such policies encourage or discourage optimal use of social media.
Given the extensive and expanding social media usage by students in social work programs, the authors strongly recommend that program directors develop and promulgate their own policies. Many online resources can guide students in creating an appropriate and constructive online presence. Yet because many of these sites focus more on promoting business or popularity, social workers need to balance online presence with professional ethics and purposes. Some educational institutions offer useful starting points for guiding students in the appropriate professional use of social media.
Beyond educating social work students in how to use social media, institutions of higher education must also establish boundaries on its professional use. A social work program’s social media policy should balance educating students with guiding and regulating the use of social media. Legal, ethical, and practical interests require professionals to be knowledgeable about social media’s merits and potential pitfalls. This is a rapidly evolving area of technology that will require ongoing attention from higher education programs.