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BABCP guidance on the use of social media 

Information for members, volunteers and staff

What is the policy for?

This policy offers principles and practical guidance on using social media for our members, volunteers and staff. It is intended to support successful professional and ethical use of social media, as well as ensuing that we act to protect the public, avoid potential harm or reputational damage and reduce the risk of security breaches. The principles in this guidance will provide a framework for decision-making and good practice when using social and other online media, including personal websites and blogs, discussion boards and general content including text, photographs, images, video and audio files.

Please use this alongside employers’ or statutory regulators’ guidance where appropriate. Social media changes rapidly. We are aware that our guidance will need regular reviews, and welcome members’ feedback and suggestions, you can contact us at babcp@babcp.com.

Using social media and other online media can be a great way to network with other professionals and communicate with the wider public. There are sites that can be incredibly helpful with signposting clients, patients or service users to information about services and to engage people in mental health debate and policy discussions. Many of our members use social media professionally to enhance the work that they do.

At the same time, using social media either personally or professionally can lead to difficulties which could impact on your practice. There can be unintended consequences of sharing information, for example, if private information is made public or a post is perceived as offensive. We are aware that this guidance will not cover every situation that can arise when using social media.

Key Principles for using social media

This guidance is based on a number of principles for good practice as they relate to social media. We expect our own and our members’ online presence to take these into account, and to have content which

  • Is respectful, kind and anti-discriminatory
  • Is consistent with our Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics 
  • Is as secure as possible to protect confidentiality and prevent ‘hacking’ or data theft, and if something goes wrong, acting to put it right promptly
  • Supports maintaining appropriate boundaries in the therapeutic relationship
  • As clearly as possible separates personal from professional online presence
  • Supports public confidence in the profession and our reputation

How Social Media relates to the Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics

As a member of BABCP you must keep to the Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics. These state that “You must keep high standards of personal conduct, as well as conduct in practice. You should be aware that poor conduct outside of your practice may affect someone’s confidence in you, your practice, or BABCP”. The same ethical obligations of professional conduct apply in an online environment as they do in person.

A recent addition to the Standards, states:

“You must use all methods of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites.”

Your membership, accreditation or registration could be at risk if you do not keep to these standards. There are a number of ways that sharing online could lead to a breach of the standards. Here are some examples:

  • Sharing confidential information, or not taking reasonable steps to prevent someone gaining access to it, for example
    • clients, patients or service users’ records
    • confidential information relating to BABCP
  • Posting pictures of clients, patients or service users without full, informed consent
  • Posting inappropriate comments about clients, patients or service users
  • Posting about BABCP in ways which could damage the public’s confidence in us, such as inaccurate, derogatory, inflammatory or defamatory comments;
  • Bullying, intimidating or exploiting people
  • Building or pursuing relationships with clients, patients or service users
  • Stealing personal information or using someone else’s identity
  • Misrepresenting the services that you provide or your level of expertise
  • Encouraging violence or self-harm
  • Inciting hatred or discrimination.

We will not tolerate any intentionally discriminatory behaviour, and this includes social media posts. Expressing racist, xenophobic, sexist, transphobic, biphobic, homophobic, ableist views, using religious based hate speech such as anti-semitic or Islamophobic or any other prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour is unacceptable, against our values and standards and is likely to damage public confidence in us.

Confidentiality

Our standards require us “to respect the confidentiality of service users”.

You must not post anything on social media, which could disclose that someone is receiving treatment from you. You must protect a client, patient or service user’s identity and keep any treatment details confidential. An example might be that a comment is posted on social media that allows someone to identify your client, this is a breach of confidentiality. In the same way, posting on your own professional website giving information on how much progress a client has made when using their service, but the person is identifiable from the information.

Many therapists use professional social media sites that are not accessible to the public such as closed groups. It is still important to protect the confidentiality of your clients, patients or service users, and ensure that they are not identifiable.

Security – Privacy, hacking and ‘human error’

If you use social media, you should protect yourself against common security issues. Here are some examples of actions you can take, or avoid, which will help to maintain your security.

  • Always use comprehensive security software that can keep you protected from the latest threats, such as viruses and hacking. 
  • Think about whether a message or a link is suspicious before clicking on it even if they appear to be posted by someone you know.
  • It is good practice to use different and ‘strong’ and unique passwords for each site or account you use. A password generator can help you create strong passwords and a password manager can help store them.
  • Avoid posting any identity information or personal details that might allow a hacker to guess your security questions. This can include ‘quizzes’ or ‘games’ that ask for personal information.
  • Don’t log in to your social accounts while using public Wi-Fi, since these networks are often unsecured and your information could be stolen. 
  • Keep up-to-date on the latest scams and malware threats.
  • You should check privacy settings, or ask for advice if you need support to ensure you only share information on purpose. ‘Updates’ on apps and sites can ‘reset’ your privacy settings. Use ‘multi-factor authentication’ if it is available, use it, and choose the highest privacy setting available. 
  • Checking your settings also applies to what you want to share in your private accounts, which can be traced even if you don’t refer to your professional activities in them.
  • Checking whether ‘metadata’ such as location may be embedded in photographs or other content and available for others to see will also help to protect your safety.

‘Hacking’

Hacking can happen, even when you take the above steps. It can be accounts which aren’t used regularly, and sometimes due to human error. You can reduce the risk of hackers gaining control of an account by changing passwords regularly and by keeping an eye on your accounts and links which could be changed to include viruses, so that you will notice if something isn’t right.

We sometimes receive complaints about inappropriate posts on social media, which have included discriminatory overtones. Our investigations show that members are not always aware that their account had been ‘hacked’ and offensive posts made. Research suggests that up to 15% of social media users have experienced an account ’takeover’. As you are responsible for the security of your social media sites, this means that you must ensure that you take all reasonable steps to maintain the security of your account. This includes the advice above on using secure passwords and changing them regularly as well as maintaining your privacy settings.

If you are ‘hacked’ taking remedial action as soon as possible will minimise potential for harm. This means that you should take all reasonable steps to regain control of your account and remove any inappropriate material. We expect our members to let us know if such posts might lead to a professional complaint being made. There is more information about duty of candour [here].

Social media and maintaining professional boundaries

You should include how you use social media when contracting with clients. This can include managing expectations about contact, ‘following’ or requests to connect on social media outside the therapeutic relationship. Ensuring that boundaries are clear from the beginning of treatment will reduce the potential for misunderstanding, hurt feelings or inappropriate expectations later.

Check your own profile and keep your professional and personal life as separate as possible

We advise members to have different accounts for personal and professional social media use. At the same time, potential clients or employers may search for information about you online, and could find personal as well as professional posts and build a picture of you as a therapist from what they find.

It might be helpful to ask someone independent to check your profile(s), and to review all your posts/tweets, photos and biography from the perspective of a client or potential client.

Careful use of self-disclosure and talking about your own lived experience can be useful in therapy as long as it is used in the best interests of your client. What you share about your personal life on social media should take into account who may see it. This can include sharing about political or other affiliations in a thoughtful way, without compromising your freedom to express your views

Reputation and public confidence in our profession

It is our responsibility to maintain public confidence, and this means protecting reputation as well. This includes both your own professional reputation, and BABCP’s.

If you act as a spokesperson on behalf of BABCP, including as a Branch or SIG member, please check with our office before posting. Email communications@babcp.com.

You must not imply that personal social media accounts represent official BABCP policies, procedures, opinions or guidance.

You should also consider how your social media activity relates to BABCP and our Standards. Your social media profiles represent you. If you refer to your BABCP Accreditation or Registration then your profile this is also associated with us and our reputation.

It can be tempting to post something in the heat of an online discussion that they would never say in person. Anonymity is not guaranteed, you should take into account that you could be identified and associated with any content you post even if it was intended to be private.

Every Social Media comment that you make could be permanent. Even if they are later deleted, they can be recordable, shareable and often searchable. Comments can be taken out of context, and sometimes people post content in order to provoke a reaction. Ensuring that disagreement and debate is expressed using polite, kind and respectful language will help to avoid unintended consequences of a hasty response.

Online Bullying

Unfortunately, there are a variety of ways in which bullying can take place online. These can include:

  • spreading malicious and abusive rumours
  • Online stalking
  • Posting embarrassing or humiliating images (revenge porn)
  • Doxxing, eg posting someone’s private details on line.
  • Trolling, whereby someone deliberately makes offensive, irrelevant or annoying posts that aim to provoke, upset or offend

If someone is bullying you via social media, you may wish to block them and report them to the social media site. If possible, take a screen shot of the message as you may need this as proof. If any bullying takes place within a closed or moderated group, alert the admin of the group who can act according to the group’s rules.

Discrimination

Sadly, sometimes people can face discrimination and prejudice on social media from other users. It can be a shocking and upsetting experience to go through. Social media posts may be considered to be a hate crime if they stir up hatred on the grounds of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act (2010).

If you’re harassed, threatened, or targeted in this way, you may want to take a record of the offensive posts and report them to the relevant social media platform and to the police. You are strongly advised to block the person targeting you.

You may wish to seek legal advice if you feel comments are defamatory or that you’re being harassed or stalked on social media or there is a potential breach of discrimination or any other relevant laws. If you are subject to harassment by a member of BABCP, you are entitled to bring a complaint under our complaints policy. It’s a good idea to keep screenshots of any concerning or abusive posts and a log of when they’ve happened in case you need to produce this for evidence during any further action.

As mentioned above, BABCP will thoroughly investigate any claims that BABCP members themselves have posted any discriminatory posts.

Concluding Comments

Social Media presents some great opportunities and we want to hear from you, particularly how you use it to promote CBT, effective therapy and engagement with other professionals. At the same time it can also inadvertently lead to professional problems. We want our members to be aware of how to use social media safely and positively, while being able to reduce potential risks or unintended consequences.

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