By April Krowel,
Social media—more specifically, Facebook—has become immensely popular. In 2009, there were an estimated 175 million active Facebook users—more than twice the population of Germany (about 82,000). Sure, plenty of opportunities have erupted from Facebook, such as keeping in touch with old friends and family members, finding new friends, networking, and collaborating on group projects. Some students have benefited by setting up private groups to discuss information pertaining to their specific cohort.
It’s not surprising that not all of the consequences to such visibility on the Internet, are positive. A simple Google search brings up plenty of articles and anecdotes in which professional and personal boundaries have been blurred.
In many cases, individuals have been fired or reprimanded for what their Facebook activity reveals about themselves, whether “status updates,” “likes,” or photos. As more employers have begun using Facebook as a screening tool, more folks are losing out on jobs due to their online activities.
As clinicians and clinicians-in-training, we need to be more mindful than the general population of our activities on social networking sites like Facebook. More specifically, we need to be careful not to fall into ethical pitfalls by using social media sites. While the APA Ethics Code (2002) does not specifically use the terms “social media,” or “Facebook,” it clearly states that the Code applies to all professional activities and to electronic communication, which includes social media of all types.
In a 2010 Monitor on Psychology article, Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD, director of APA’s Ethics Office, stated, “It’s easy not to be fully mindful about the possibilities of disclosure with these communications because we use these technologies so often in our social lives. It’s something we haven’t gotten into the habit of thinking about.”
Mental health professionals (including those in training) should exercise more caution when teaching, conducting research, or providing services for clients. When “friending” students, consider the benefits and risks that could develop. Be mindful when posting photos on social media sites; look at them before posting to ensure there are no potential privacy or confidentiality issues that could arise.
AMHCA’s and APA’s next Code of Ethics will likely address the issues raised by using social media. Until then, it is our ethical duty, as professionals in the field, to be mindful with all types of electronic communication.
AMHCA graduate student members are eligible for at least four national awards.
- See descriptions of two student awards being offered by AMHCA: Graduate Student of the Year, and The Poster Session Award.
- See also descriptions of two student awards being offered by the AMHCA Foundation: The AMHCA Foundation Student Travel Scholarship and the AMHCA Foundation Graduate Student Research Award.