Critical conversations: Social workers’ perceptions of the use of a closed Facebook group as a participatory professional space


  • Deb Stanfield Wintec: Waikato Institute of Technology
  • Liz Beddoe Auckland University
  • Neil Ballantyne
  • Simon Lowe
  • Nicole Renata



Social media, social workers, professional boundaries, social networking sites, netiquette


INTRODUCTION: The rise of social media has been associated with rapid growth in different forms of digital networking, debate and activism. Many studies have traced the role of social media in mobilising people to take action on shared issues of concern across the world. Yet, while networked public spaces offer many possibilities for professional engagement and interaction, the technology also shapes social dynamics, raising questions over professional boundaries and the nature of online behaviour.

METHOD: The development of a closed professional group on the social networking site, Facebook, provided an ideal opportunity to explore social workers’ perceptions of participatory public space for professional deliberation and debate about public issues. Using a small-scale, case-study approach, group members were invited to complete an online survey and to participate in an interview which explored participants’ motivation for joining the group, the frequency and nature of their contributions, how it felt to be a member and what they valued or found problematic about the group.

FINDINGS:  Those group members benefitted from the resources, research and professional development opportunities afforded to them and supported the professional potential and promise of social networking sites. They grappled with what constitutes ethical online behaviour and identified the site’s limitations and strengths as a place to promote robust professional dialogue on social issues. 

IMPLICATIONS: Analysis of social workers’ experience within participatory public spaces offers insight into how the profession can develop modern communication strategies and strong communities of practice in line with its professional principles and mandate.

Author Biography

Deb Stanfield, Wintec: Waikato Institute of Technology

Senior Academic


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How to Cite

Stanfield, D., Beddoe, L., Ballantyne, N., Lowe, S., & Renata, N. (2017). Critical conversations: Social workers’ perceptions of the use of a closed Facebook group as a participatory professional space. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 29(3), 42–54.



Original Articles