In this third extract from Starting Social Work: Reflections of a Newly Qualified Social Worker by Rebecca Joy Novell, Rebecca discusses how social media became an important tool for her during her social work course.
Why don’t you write a blog? These words came from my friend Ben’s mouth when he was clearly sick of me relaying my anger and frustration about the injustices of the world to him. It was clear to those who knew me best that social work was changing me. For better or for worse, it was all I could talk about. It had consumed me.
There were so many questions I needed answering about what the role of a social worker was. Do we comply with systems we know to be unfair and corrupt? Or do we challenge those systems knowing it could put the service user in a difficult situation? For example, how could I challenge a staff member from the Job Centre who was being incredibly rude to my service user without it costing the service user their housing Benefits? My head was a mess.
I began blogging that summer. I was, and still remain, a complete failure when it comes to computers and the internet. I gained quite a reputation at university for losing hundreds of pages of essays and dissertations because I didn’t know how to back up my work. In fact, if this book gets to print in one piece it will be a minor miracle. The idea of using an internet-based blog was, to my friends, fairly hilarious. However, I managed to master the basics, along with Twitter, and began venting my thoughts and frustrations to the world. Or, to no one at all, as it would turn out for the first few weeks.
I never began blogging with the intention of having an audience. Like I said, there were things I needed to get off my chest. I never really expected anyone to reply. After my first post, however, I found blogging to be an amazing form of stress management. I’ve never been one for keeping a diary, but in some ways, this is what I was doing.
Another part of me wanted the people closest to me to understand what I did, and why. A lot of my friends and family knew very little about social work and it was important to me (if not them) that they understood the reality of what I do. I publicised my first few blogs on Twitter and Facebook and got kind and helpful responses. The more people read it, the more blogging became a form of national and international supervision. People from Thailand and the United States of America were offering me their insights into the problems I had posed. It opened a whole new world of social work to me.
I believe online blogging has the potential to be to our generation what pamphleteering was to the Reformation. Pamphleteering played a central role in allowing Martin Luther to challenge the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church, eventually leading to the Protestant Reformation. A blog is a forum where an individual can discuss any topic they like – and in a nation where 33 million people use the internet daily, it is possible to reach a huge audience within seconds. The power of online media should not be underestimated.
Social media opened up so many doors for me. I still find my online journey quite overwhelming. One October morning I was approached by The Guardian, via Twitter, and asked if I wanted to write a piece for their Social Care Network. I almost fell out of my seat. It had been a dream of mine since the age of 11 to write for a national newspaper. And as a lover of all things left-wing, The Guardian was predictably my favourite paper. Since my first article appeared online, I have been offered numerous opportunities to write about my profession and ultimately it led to me writing the book you are reading now. (So, if you want to blame anyone for this book, blame the internet.) Social media has enabled me to advocate for my service users and my profession on a national level. That need I had felt for my role as a social worker to be more than helping one person at a time, was, and still is, being met. I don’t pretend to think that my writing is changing the way Britain views social work, but I do hope that one day it will. And at present, I enjoy being a small voice in a big debate.