The NASW has recently released changes to the Code of Ethics inspired in large part by the need to address the ethics of technology use, both personally and professionally. While these changes to the Code of Ethics are not yet reflected on the exam, we decided to make this week’s practice question about the use of technology and social media. From our TDC Social Work Exam Facebook Study Group, to our public Facebook page, and the blog itself, we saw people choose a variety of answer options. We are excited to share the answer and rationale with you today!
A social worker has been meeting with a 15 year old female for the past two years around issues of anxiety and depression. The social worker learns that her client’s mother, who suffered from Bipolar Disorder and saw her own therapist, recently committed suicide. The social worker posts on a public Facebook group for social workers, “A teenage client lost her mother, Cassandra, to suicide on October 21st. Cassandra suffered from Bipolar Disorder and saw a counselor herself. This serves as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done to prevent these tragedies. My heart is heavy today.” This use of technology is:
A. Both legal and ethical
B. Illegal and unethical
C. Legal, but unethical
D. Illegal, but ethical
The correct answer is B, both illegal and unethical. There are several legal and ethical issues presented in this scenario that are of concern. First, this is posted in a public Facebook group, so anyone could see it, including the client and her family. Second, the social worker provided a good bit of identifying information: the mother’s first name and the date of her death. That, coupled with the likely ability to identify what state the social worker practices in, is enough to do a google search and identify the person. On top of that, we know the person saw a therapist and suffered from Bipolar Disorder. This is private information, which is not the public Facebook world’s business! Further, once you identify who the mother is, it would be fairly simple to find out who the client is as well (especially given that most obituaries list the deceased’s surviving children by name).
In the real life scenario that inspired this question, the former TDC user who shared this story was able to identify the person the social worker posted about in less than a minute. Pretty scary. This is clearly an ethical breach of client privacy and confidentiality. What may surprise some of you is that this is not only unethical, it is also illegal. Why? Since anyone reading this post can identify the mother and therefore the client based on the information posted by the social worker, this constitutes a legal breach of the client’s private health information. It is now public knowledge that she 1. sees a social worker and 2. suffers from anxiety and depression. If the social worker is covered under HIPAA, they could be facing some hefty fines, not to mention discipline (and possible license revocation) from their state licensing board.
Yesterday we were on a webinar with the NASW (which we will post more about in tomorrow’s blog!). Something they brought up many times throughout the two hour session was this: if you are wondering whether it is okay to post something online, ask yourself if it would be okay to do so in person? So in this case, would it be okay to share this information in a public forum that anyone could hear? Of course not! So why would it be okay to post online? The answer is that it is not.
We are incredibly excited and grateful that the NASW has put out these new standards. There are many discussions that need to be had amongst us as professionals. These are not easy things to navigate and they pose many challenging questions that need to be addressed. As you figure out what these new standards mean for you personally and professionally, be sure to surround yourself with trusted colleagues and supervisors who you can dialogue with.
Which answer did you choose? Does the rationale fit with your understanding of the code of ethics, the law, and how you would apply those in a clinical setting? Or did you learn something new with this scenario? If you have any further questions feel free to check in with a TDC coach. We are here to support you all along the way. And if you came up with the same answer-great job! You are on the right track to getting licensed.
Still haven’t signed up for an exam preparation program? Or have you already passed the exam and need to complete your continuing education requirements? Our structured, straightforward approach will provide you with exactly what you need! You can learn more about our social work licensing exam prep, MFT licensing exam prep, and continuing education courses by clicking the links below! If you’d like to connect directly with one of our coaches, you can do that HERE.
We look forward to helping you PASS your exam with confidence!