Social work and the digital – part 2
Digital social work: a piece of cake? No!
Even if this is both necessary and possible (see part 1), there are still numerous hurdles to be overcome:
Legal hurdles: these are located on several levels. Data protection and the protection of personality rights are one aspect. The question of who writes posts or blogs, and in whose name, is another. Who is responsible, for example, if a staff member from a youth centre posts a photo on Facebook, and those in the photo do not want this to happen? How does an organization in the social economy protect the staff who are twittering in its name from a online attack? Is it acceptable for practitioners to use their private smartphones to take photos and post content online? These questions should not be dismissed as “bothersome details”. They have to be resolved as a matter of urgency! In particular, the agencies involved in the social economy need to provide their staff with corresponding guidelines, as the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz, for example, has done with its “Social Media Guidelines” (http://www.dbk.de/fileadmin/redaktion/diverse_downloads/presse/2012-109b-Empfehlungen-Social-Media-Guidelines.pdf)
Technical hurdles: the provision of technical devices is perceived as a problem, particularly in the social realm. “Work mobiles” or “work tablets” are still not routinely provided for those working with clients, and – despite dramatically reduced prices – cost is often cited as the reason. A further problem is access to the internet: many social work organizations have no Wi-Fi – whether because the organization wishes to avoid trouble and expense, or because this is seen as a risk to data security. For quick, workflow-integrated posts, wired internet access is often a real obstacle – and because it is so much effort people simply do not bother.
Intellectual hurdles: the digital world is not just a computerized version of the analogue world. Anyone involved in it needs certain (new) skills. Here the technical side is the easiest part. More challenging and more important is the ability to select: what is important, what is not? Which path in the connected world do I follow, and which do I ignore? Which source do I trust, and which do I not trust? The ability to judge, to distinguish between what is relevant and high-quality and what is not, is fundamental.
Social hurdles: a further hurdle lies in the blurring of boundaries between work and private life which comes with the use of digital media. This phenomenon, already identified before the spread of social networks, describes the increasing permeation of leisure time with tasks and requirements from the world of work. For many of those working in the social economy, their forays into the digital world take place in their free time – so is this work? Or an enjoyable leisure activity? These boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred, often without us realizing it. Another thing needed here is the ability to switch off, in order to prevent “digital burnout”. But this is something we need to engage in dialogue about!
For social work – and for society – it is vital that we address these limitations. Criticism of the digital discourse is important (see @legereaude, http://bobblume.de/2016/04/14/kleine-kritik-am-digitalen-diskurs/), but it should not make us abandon this discourse; instead it should encourage us to continue the debate with a focus on content, self-criticism and objectivity!
Read part 3 next week: “Social work should embrace the digital!“