iactivism in, and for social work

This blog is largely a note to myself. It marks a moment in time for me as a tech interested social worker and tech critical social work academic. It is written because of the frustrations I feel about having little in the way of helpful solutions to digital platform exploitation and dangers, and due to the thoughts I have about the role of social work in the push back necessary. It is about my choice or indeed my possible failure to continue with an act of digital resistance – an iactivist stance to technologies that mine, scrape and misuse data. Whilst I am aware of and acknowledge that there are many equally unethical platforms and platform designers, it is Zoom I have been avoiding. This is due to its pretty abysmal track record in this area, and due to the overwhelming use of this platform across human services professions. The latter I acknowledge is largely associated with the level of digital dependency required in response to the current global pandemic, and the ‘ease’ [baked into the design] of use that makes this platform so ‘attractive’. It is a reflection on what I do or where I go now in terms of my attempts to raise awareness of the implications of platform capitalism, surveillance and data mining and what this means for us all, and more importantly for those human service professionals serve, and often have a responsibility to and for. It is in part too an acknowledgement of the pains associated with my self-imposed exclusion from events that involve this particular digital platform, events where the ethics and data implications of platform usage are often left unexplained, are unknown or can’t be explained at all.

A brief comment on how I got here: In my role as a social work educator I have been interested in the use of new and emerging social type technologies for a significant amount of time. Initially it was the pedagogic gains and flexibility or the affordances that #edtech seemed to offer that caught my eye. Seeing students connect on platforms such as Twitter with the wider #socialwork community, to develop their network, their knowledge and their academic voices was a real source of joy. I too have benefited from connecting virtually and widely on this platform, and continue, most of the time, to enjoy and benefit from the connections I have made. Conversely, a short time after dipping my toe into the #edtech pond, I began to see and experience things that I felt less comfortable with and clear about. I have never (thankfully) felt at ease with the use of Facebook as a pedagogic device in social work education. Indeed, it was the boundary blurring that can occur through purposive algorithmic design that contributed to a number of practitioners making choices that lead to behaviors that are in conflict with professional expectations. Indeed, some of the most alarming incidents of social work professionals coming unstuck online have involved this platform. I continue to feel wary of inviting students into ienvironments and ispaces – where they too might feel uneasy, find themselves compromised or unknowingly fall foul of interconnectivity online.

Continuing on with what had been started long before: For over 30 years my colleagues have been advocating for social work to engage more judiciously with technologies. How slow social work has been to respond is well documented, that was until social distancing measures and physical restrictions were put in place to control the spread of the COVID19 virus. Since that time social work, more out of necessity than out of choice, made a dash into the online. It was this very dash that led to my iactivism, an act of resistance positioned to make visible my angst about the implications for services-users, or indeed students, when being invited into ienvironments that are ‘free’ to assess, in terms of privacy, rights and information safety. I remain unclear, and to a larger extent unconvinced, about how consent can be outlined or communicated in accessible and digestible terms as per data protection legislation given that platforms continue to be exposed and sued for data and privacy infringements. An issue made clear through the #CambridgeAnalytica scandal and the nonsense those in the tech industries attempted to feed the American senate.

So what now? What do I do given that to engage fully with my professional groupings (social work and social work education) means the use of Zoom? I could ask for a full explanation about how entering that environment might impact on me short, mid and longer term? I could ask for a full explanation, informed by data protection law, of how my data is being processed and where it is being stored? To date however when I have asked Q’s of this nature I have been met with less than reassuring responses [such as: everyone is using it, chill out, its not a big deal, it works] – that means I remain unconvinced or even unaware of who will have my data, where it will be stored, or if I should really care. I am currently finding it harder and harder to continue with my iactivism anti-zoom stance.

Whilst this blog is mostly a note to myself – I guess I am hoping that someone might reach out with some advice, guidance, help or even just in solidarity. Even though I am fully aware that individual level iactivism is not going to make a dent in the socio-technical problems of our time, I am a hoping that each time I have brought the issue of platform ethics to the fore that someone somewhere has paused to consider or reconsider their digital choices and or their data and person-in-environment professional responsibilities. It feels like there is so much riding on each of us, and particularly a profession like social work, taking a stance – because the risks to privacy, rights and the welfare state are high – for us all – but mostly for those we serve.


*I also should have mentioned, amongst many other things, the above blog is also likely to have felt more urgent to write after having watched IHuman This documentary added to my growing angst about living in a #postprivacysociety

** also this paper might too help articulate the problem as I see it

@SWBookGroup live from A Shoe that is the @itsmotherswork Shoe!

So as one does on the first morning of one’s annual leave, one reads all one can about one of the things one loves (in my case @SWBookGroup ) and it turns into a mini project! Yes? Well in fact probably not but anyway here’s what happened.

I was tweeting about and from @SWBookGroup this morning as I was catching up with articles, blogs and the like about the benefits of reading fiction and other related pieces that I had just not got around to.  As I was reading I was posting tweets to my fellow #swbk er’s so that they too could have a read at their convenience. It then dawned on me that it had been a while since I last actually caught up with my fellow @SWBookGroup er’s and I was wondering what they might be reading over the summer, a term I use loosely for many reasons! Following on from this I had yet another idea (I am hoping that anytime soon I might run out of bright ideas) which was to collate a reading list of what Book Groupers had chosen to read over the holiday period and to share any tweets that I might get with #socialwork #socialcare and fiction reading colleagues and communities.

Luckily for me, a fabulous tweep friend @itsmotherswork shared some really interesting tweets about a book The Homecoming of Samuel Lake she had been reading. The rest now, it is hoped, will make some history! But we can’t do it alone, nor would we want too! In fact Jarlath. F. Benson Working More Creatively With Groups: Third Edition talks about the numbers required to make a group in his wonderful works.  So this is where you all come in. We are keen to hold an online Book Group for anyone who might be interested. @itsmotherswork has most kindly, without any kind of pressure *coughs*  agreed to host the session but before we go into full on planning mode we wanted to find out how many of you would be interested? The Book Group would be online from the @SWBookGroup feed, on a week night evening and we will be using #bookinashoe as our hashtag. We can send out the date and time once we establish if there is enough interest in what will be the first of its kind kinda Book Group.
So please tweet @SWBookGroup using the hashtag #bookinashoe to let us know if you are in!

Many thanks for reading and we do hope that there might be enough of us to read, think and share together.

@amltaylor66 from @SWBookGroup HQ with the most wonderful @itsmotherswork who will be our host for the evening!