Anonymity


Anonymity

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I often wondered about  how ‘safe’ it is to write about my work and my profession ‘on the internet’ – primarily in blogs, microblogs (like Twitter) and internet forums and the nature of anonymity as well as the ability that we have, with the growth of communication technologies and as we build different kinds of links to shield ourselves behind a veil of anonymity.  The ability to create and manipulate impressions that others have of us is something that is still at fairly early stages regarding sociological research.  To an extent, as long as I remain anonymous, I can be whoever and whatever I say I am. Having a ‘name’ ensures more credibility. Why don’t I do it then? It’s something I’ve been thinking about since I started using internet forums and has been an underlying part of my blogging process over the last 3 years.

I’m fairly sure that anyone who actually knows me would know enough from what I write here to make a fair guess as to who I am. I am genuinely unsure what the response would be of my management to my writings. I know I haven’t been overly critical of my workplace because, apart from issues and decisions which are not taken locally – like the recruitment freeze which has led to considerably increased pressure on workloads, and the implementation of the personal budgets programme – I genuinely like my work and my managers and the issues I gripe about are not ones that they are responsible for. In fact, mostly the work-related matters that concern me are ones that are broader than our own local authority.

I work in a good team and the people I work with have a good ethos and agenda so this is hardly a ranty  blog – well, I should qualify that the rants are mostly political rather than personal. Generally, I get on well with my colleagues as well and enjoy the work I do.

But, and this is my remaining reservation, I have signed a contract which precludes any contact with media and asks me to direct any enquiries to my employers’ PR team.  How does that relate to ‘self-publishing’ without the conduit of a ‘journalist’ – honestly, I’m not sure but I am sure that local authorities should address these issues as soon as possible as I can’t be the only person thinking it.

I don’t write much about casework and when I do, it is both with details changed considerably and often after a period of time to ensure that confidentiality is respected. This isn’t intended to be a ‘warts and all’ expose’ type blog. That’s possibly why I don’t write about some of the day to day details of my work which I’m sure most readers would find more interesting. Some of the actual day to day work I feel needs to be respected and so I’ll veer away from that.  If I were looking for a ‘book deal’ or alternate career, I have no doubt that I could write about some of the truly unbelievable stuff that occurs in my job on a day to day basis but often it really is a case of fact being stranger than fiction and that is neither respectful nor ethical.

But what does that mean for use of social media? I think that’s the question I would like to know the answer to but don’t feel I can ask. Is it about the nature of my work that makes me reluctant to press my claim to ‘go public’? Possibly. It seems the higher you rise in the ‘hierarchy’ the easier it is to take a claim personally for your own information and voice.  I see independent consultants and academics able to ‘out themselves’ because they have a body of work in their own name. I’m not as far along my ‘career path’ to risk it. I don’t want an alternate career – I’m happy with the one I have and I see having a high profile as being both a disadvantage and a risk in local authority social work.

I have to make difficult decisions in relation to some of my work and some of it is non-consensual. I can impose my decisions on others by the nature of the inherent power in my  job. Would you want someone who makes a decision to admit you to hospital or who discusses an admission to a residential home ‘in your best interests’ or who has made a decision that you don’t have the capacity to make a decision about managing your money or someone who is involved in investigating a safeguarding (abuse) issue to be reflecting online with anyone who might care to listen about the issues that affect you?  Or even if they didn’t discuss it online, would you want to find them and target them if they made a decision you or your family didn’t agree with?

This is the reason for some of my restraint. I am also aware that there may be future situations that I work with where individuals with whom I am working in a professional capacity might ‘Google’ me and wouldn’t want to feel what they are saying would be open to the public gaze.  There is a trust issue ultimately and it may be a reason for there to be the impression of a breach of trust even if none exist. I know I’ve changed the details and information related to any case work I might write about but future people I work with don’t know that.

It’s an interesting and sometimes troubling dichotomy. I want to share the work and information about the work I do because I genuinely think there is a great misunderstanding about what social workers do. I am also aware that by ‘putting my name out there’ I would be subject to vitriolic abuse – I know because I’ve received some fairly impassioned rants even as an  ‘anonymous’ social worker. You can’t get away from the fact that the way this society responds and functions and the role of our job indicates that there will always be some people who hate social workers. Some of them have a lot of resourcefulness to them.

So this is why I remain anonymous. It is to protect my work, myself and my future career. I sometimes feel tempted to ‘break out’ and of course, my anonymity and my insistence on such has led me to refuse some opportunities which would have been interesting to me.

There is a difference between throwing off anonymity when you are at the beginning of your career and throwing off anonymity when you are at the ‘top’ of your career.

Sure, it isn’t the only way to go and depends on the type of work you pick up but it’s not just your current employers that it might affect but all potential employers in the future.

Is it possible to be a ‘famous’ effective social worker in the public sector (without being in a senior management position) in the UK – I don’t think so.

I’d be interested in the thoughts of others though.

12 thoughts on “Anonymity

  1. Even if your given name is not known, your blog and other writings have credibility, as you have created a consistent online ‘Persona’, that many engage with.

    It is highly unlikely that anyone working in local authority (State) Social Work would ever be given permission by employers to engage with the Media.

    Anonymity allows for unpopular minority views to be expressed without the risk of opprobrium from those with narrow or vested interests.

    Anonymity also allows important distance from your role as an employee.

    I suggest many, if not most, Social Work/er service users would not want help from an individual Social Worker who communicates across the media, they want anonymity. Service users often do not want friends and neighbors to know any Social Worker(s) are involved in their lives.

    Many published authors use Pen names and globally speaking using ones real name online to express social and political opinions is often high risk.

  2. Couldn’t have put it any better – the cons of coming out far outweigh the pros (at this point anyway), so the mask of anonymity is vital in my opinion for a blog like this.

    Your reasons were very nicely put too!

  3. You hit the nail on the head. I know if I was appearing on radio shows/tv it would change the dynamic of all of my working relationships. People don’t need to see “their” social worker (that’s how they see me!) in the media, even if I’d be talking about things which don’t affect them.

    I’d rather be anonymous and cautious than public and risking everything.

  4. Good piece, and a strong case for anonymity.

    I’m a social worker who blogs about another topic unrelated to social care. I decided to use my real name from the start because in a crowded field I wanted to create the personal touch. The posts reflect this, I hope – readers can relate to a single voice, the classic reason for blogging as opposed to the semi-pro sites that sadly proliferate these days.

    I’ve seriously considered a social work blog but I can’t take that same approach because with the interesting stuff it would be too easy to identify who I was talking about, whether other professionals or users of our service. It’s just too dangerous. Your writing never detracts from the personal aspects of our work and the points you make.

    So carry on!

    Regards.

  5. I too blog anonymously, and like you often feel guilty about it. It feels a little bit dishonest – but it is necessary. My problem with going public isn’t with an employer – no one pays carers (especially over retirement age), but I can’t afford to prejudice my sons care. I’d hope I could trust social workers to continue not to let my own blogged views colour their actions, but could I trust the service commissioners, and I’m sure I couldn’t trust the political councillors responsible for the cuts. I’d like not to be anonymous but daren’t take the risk – it’s a criticism I have to accept and live with.
    We may not be in exactly the same boat but I’m sure we’re floating down the same current. I’ll stay anonymous, your blog is plenty strong enough to survive this relatively minor issue.

  6. Thanks for all the responses – I won’t answer individually because basically it seems as if we are in broad agreement 🙂 I do appreciate you all sharing your thoughts and opinions – if anything it has made me even more determined to preserve my anonymity.

  7. Thanks so much, cb, for essentially continuing our twitter chat in this post but in far greater depth than you could possibly have done via twitter 🙂

    You’ve convinced me…and this suggests that I should continue to refrain from divulging my full name for the same reasons you and your readers so eloquently specified.

    • Thanks Dorlee – I suppose I imagined a lot of the issues I wrote referred to the way that social work functions in the UK as well – I know in the US there is a type of private practice where perhaps, for the purposes of advertising etc, it is useful to have your name and experiences ‘out there’. My gut feeling (and I could be wrong) is that there is generally a lot more hostility towards social workers and their role here in the UK as opposed to in the US. I know when I’ve been to the States, I haven’t felt the same reluctance to explain my profession that I sometimes get here.

  8. This is a very interesting and under-discussed topic. I think that it is the case that if any Social Worker made any public comment about anything related or unrelated to work in my area then they would be in trouble. Even if what they said represented the organisation and its view well it is not permitted. What effect does this have on us advocating for clients, explaining what we do and how we work, what we have to do when making difficult decision? I think it stifles debate and understanding utterly. Another consequence of blame culture.

  9. I’m pretty obsessive about staying anonymous for the reasons you listed. I’ve consulted with a few other social workers who work in the same child welfare system as I do to confirm that they couldn’t figure out who I was or what agency I work for. It’s definitely a delicate balance.

  10. Thanks for the comments – it is a difficult balance but I feel more comfortable with my decision – sometimes it’s easy to forgot quite how open some information is and can get.

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