Ethics of Using Social Media and Search to “Google” Clients

During a recent required social work ethics course to keep my social work license up to date, the class discussed whether it was appropriate or ethical to “google” or use social media to find information for contextual background on their clients.

This discussion is fairly new to social workers and students.  At first, the reaction by the participants was a resounding”absolutely not“! In further discussion some people, including our instructor agreed that with a client’s permission it is acceptable and that viewing Facebook or doing a search on the Internet might aid a social worker in helping their client.

Using Google or a Client’s Social Media Can Be Useful

Girl on smartphone is being bullied on social media

Facebook and other media sites for adolescents and young adults can be a source of anxiety and distress. Some individuals get a false sense of friendship or connection on social media. Students have reported to me that unless they get a certain number of likes or comments they feel rejected and ignored.

  • Google and Social Media can assist in identifying the problem.
    If a student is willing to share their posts and the reactions of their peers with their social worker it might be therapeutic for their discussion and work. Adolescents often need guidance that they may not be getting from other adults in using social media appropriately.
  • Google and Social Media can assist in tailoring the right solution.
    It is also possible to help a social worker hone in on a more accurate diagnosis for their client by reading what the client posts. If paranoia is suspected or  bipolar symptoms are present, reading posts may shed more light on their client.

“Googling”, Social Media, and Social Work Ethics

Social worker googles client on social media

It is most likely not appropriate to “friend” a client on social media, therefore the client would have to be willing to pull up their media pages for discussion.

Another concern for some social workers in schools is dealing with their student’s parent’s requests to be friends on social media.

Social work ethics clearly state that the relationship between the social worker and the client is confidential. This can be muddled in a school because parents often tell each other their child is in a group or seeing the social worker.

Many times it is a parent’s recommendation to another parent to reach out to the social worker. In that case, a social worker isn’t violating the confidentially. If a social worker is a social media friend of a parent or client then it is possible that confidentiality is compromised. It’s probably a good idea to have a policy that accepting a friend request is outside of the boundaries in a helping relationship.




Social Work Ethics: Using Social Media and Search to “Google” Clients
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Social Work Ethics: Using Social Media and Search to “Google” Clients
Shari Davis discusses social work ethics pros & cons when using social media to “Google” clients. Are there unintended consequences?
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