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.

Speaking Up

Community Care reports this week on a comment made by Julie Jones, the Chief Executive of SCIE (Social Care Institute of Excellence) compelling social workers to ‘speak up and speak out’ in order to put across their positive messages to counter some of the negativity that the mainstream media and general public seem to hold in regard to the profession.

My general argument (and not just mine) has been that our employers would not welcome direct contact with the press – indeed – we have been instructed to push any media contact request via our press office. This was instilled in us during our initial inductions in the authority and it is hard to shake free from that mindset.

SCIE is positioning itself to be the ‘first point of call for the media’ seeking news stories and sources relating to social work and social care and as such, they are establishing an online TV station particularly devoted to Social Work and Social Care stories. It’s an interesting and potentially useful initiative to use different sources of media to promote positive news as well as training initiatives for the sector.

Conversely though, I can’t help but be marginally concerned by the ‘outing’ of Night Jack – an esteemed anonymous police blogger – whose anonymity was blasted by The Times after a court ruling that the injunction the blogger had taken against the Times revealing his identity could not stand as the judge said

“I do not accept that it is part of the court’s function to protect police officers who are, or think they may be, acting in breach of police disciplinary regulations from coming to the attention of their superiors,” Eady added.

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The implications for anonymous bloggers is obvious – there is no protection in the law. It has served as a short, sharp shock for me anyway.

Nightjack closed his blog, deleted it and has, indeed, been disciplined by his employers.

I try to vary my content between the general and the specific but have no doubt that were someone who works directly with me to come across this site, they would, quite quickly be able to ascertain my identity. I am not as careful as I could be.

For me though, it has provided a wonderful way to bypass the ‘press office’ of the local authority and to speak about the work I do and how I do it in a more direct manner. I hope to provide some insight into social workers who do not necessarily meet the media stereotype. I would argue that writing has improved my practice, knowledge base and effectiveness as certainly, the scope for reflection, thought and comment has increased.

I am torn between being more careful, being less careful and just packing in altogether.  I doubt the ‘packing in altogether’ option would be viable. I am now accustomed to writing, indeed, I missed it when I was on holiday – but to use a tired old cliche, it is food for thought.

I think there is a place for anonymous blogging – and although I have to say, I never expected there to be much protection as anonymity is and can be very fragile, the Nightjack lesson shown to prove how much more careful it is necessary to be.