I’ve presented at conferences on the topic of the importance of social networking and social media for human services providers, and I have posted on this blog many times about our efforts at Keystone Human Services. Now, many human services providers are on Twitter and Facebook, and it has me thinking about social networking and the people we support. (For an example of the growing number of service providers on Twitter, see my list http://twitter.com/#/list/jbuford/intellectual-disability.)
People supported by human services providers are all vulnerable in one way or another—some only temporarily, others more systemically—and one of our important tasks is to shore up their areas of vulnerability. Those efforts can sometimes lead to a blurring of the lines from a professional relationship to one that looks more like friendship. The ethics of that are clearer in fields such as social work, psychology, and psychiatry (i.e. the principles of confidentiality and dual relationships) than they are for the people who directly support people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, autism, or other challenges in the community. In this setting the guide posts are far murkier .
True to form, I have no answers to these myriad ethical dilemmas. In fact, I don’t even have the questions. I have a strong sense, though, that those of us who think we have an obligation to make sure our communities are welcoming to all people, need to think through the hazards, and the benefits, of “friending” people we support. Already the digital divide disproportionately excludes many people from the community we all enjoy in the social media.
In my organization I’m putting together a diverse panel of people to begin to define questions and an ethical framework, but I’d like to have the conversation here in the social media as well. Do you or your organization struggle to find the right answer to how to help someone with an intellectual disability navigate Facebook safely, without paternalism or odd blurring of lines? Have you already answered questions about how to respond when someone you support “friends” you? Please let me know how you are framing the questions, and maybe we can work together to craft answers.