Monday, February 25, 2013

Some Thoughts on Online Posts

Our Words Online:   Some Thoughts for People Who Work In Positions of Public Trust 

The options and capacities available in the world of online social networking and communication are increasing at a speed that leaves a lot of us with heads spinning. We share photos across the country in real time. We chat face to face with people halfway around the world. Much of what goes on in the internet world seems quickly relegated to the oblivion offered by the sheer volume of bites layering upon bites. That is, until someone either happens upon something you’ve posted, or intentionally goes looking for you, either out of curiosity, in appreciation of your work, or because they hope that they might be able to discredit or undermine you.

When this happens, just about everything you have written is right there for better or for worse. People can look at it, pour over it, distribute it, take it out of context, make attributions about you and your words, think well or poorly of you and of anyone or anything associated with you.  

In this way, a momentary annoyance, or a tongue-in-cheek comment expressed online can become a banner that grows in significance and meaning. It can become an overwhelming, even “viral”, and very permanent representation of you, of the voice of the agency, profession, or other associated group to which you belong.  This speaks to the issue that if social networking occurs “off the clock” in a person’s personal time, whose business is it if they post, for example: 

·        A complaint, frustration, or exasperation about what an un-named client has done?

·        A desire to be retired , on vacation, or doing something else?

·        Positive or neutral comments about an un-named client?

·        A re-count of an interesting or challenging “case” at work? 

These are not necessarily unauthorized disclosures of protected health information, though they easily might be. These particular types of statements are more subtly destructive of the trust the community places in us, the trust that allows people to take a risk in disclosing themselves to us, and the confidence they place in us that ultimately allows us do our work effectively. These types of statements raise questions about our fundamental values, professionalism, objectivity, respect, interest and commitment to our work and to the people we serve. They also raise questions about our basic ability to keep our mouths shut when needed.  

These posts may seem innocent to the writer or amusing to their friends, but they are, in fact, profound and far-reaching violations of the trust that our clients and our communities place in our agency and in mental health practitioners in general.