This is a post by Sarah Phillimore
The Social Work Tutor is an anonymous practising social worker who runs a very popular Facebook site. At the time of writing it has 352,016 ‘likes’. The site purports to offer “News, comment, debate, education and humour for the worldwide Social Work community”.
There is also a website which offers ‘shopping’ opportunties where you can buy T Shirts for £16 and a variety of mugs for £7.
I will make it very clear at the outset that it is obvious that Social Work Tutor has a powerful voice in the social work community, and he hasn’t gained that by offering nothing of worth. There are obviously many who take comfort and inspiration from what he posts, who enjoy his funny or inspirational pictures and quotes.
However, I have noted a clear trend over the past year for a number of posts and comments that appear to be promoting a very ‘them and us’ divisive line about social work. The Social Worker is recast as ‘hero’, or metaphorically battered and bruised by the heavy demands of the job, requiring our ‘pity’ because they have to interact so frequently with dangerous parents.
I, and many others, have felt uncomfortable by this narrative. Social work – like the law – is not something you ‘do’ to people. It is not about treating the people who come into contact with social work (or the law) as worse or lesser beings. That is a very dangerous road to go down, as the lessons of history repeatedly show.
But I, and many others, support entirely the right of others to have a voice, to speak up, to argue for what they believe in. All that is asked in return is that they are willing and able to explain their position if challenged. Because this is how we grow and develop – not just our ideas but as people. I am now a much better lawyer (and a better person) since I started this site and began to let myself be open to challenge. If you start from a position of honesty and integrity, challenge is nothing to be feared. It is to be welcomed. If your position is not quite as honest and authentic as you hoped, why would you shy away from efforts to understand this?
On July 23rd 2016 I published on this blog a guest post from a social worker who wished to remain anonymous, called ‘Social Workers speaking out – what should they say?’ This was mainly a comment on an earlier post by Social Work Tutor in June 2016 on his site, about Ben Butler as an example of a ‘monster parent’ from whom children must be rescued (this particular post caused significant unease for many and has now been deleted). I published the guest post because I thought it was a fair and balanced piece about something very important; how social workers speak out and what can they say. Their voice is crucial in this debate and not often heard, due to restrictions often placed on the ability of social workers to engage with social media by their employers.
The response from Social Work Tutor was immediate – I must remove the post or he would take legal advice regarding defamation. This lead to my publishing this post ‘So you’re thinking of suing me for defamation?’ on July 24th as – sadly – Social Work Tutor is not alone in thinking that threats of legal action are sufficient to end debate.
I make the point again, as it doesn’t seem to be getting through. It is NOT ‘defamation’ if someone says something about you that you don’t like, or find annoying. You must show ‘serious harm’ to your reputation by the alleged defamatory comment. Truth is a defence to defamation. It is going to be very interesting to know the result of the Jack Monroe versus Katie Hopkins legal action, arising out of insults posted on Twitter, as I am hoping for a clear judgment from the court to reinforce what I already know.
Social Work Tutor and I exchanged some emails and he appeared to reach an understanding; that there was nothing defamatory in my post and I would not be removing it. I did however remove one sentence at this request. There, I thought the matter had come to and end.
But sadly not. From Twitter exchanges on 27th February 2017 it became clear that Social Work Tutor’s understanding had been either illusory or very short lived. He described my July guest post as a ‘shocking’ example of the ‘lack of decency’ in the debate around social work then blocked both my personal and CPR Twitter accounts.
I remain delighted to offer Social Work Tutor a right of reply to this or any other post of mine. I am always willing to listen to and to respond to requests to edit or remove material. Threats of legal action however are highly unlikely to achieve anything other than to reinforce my position and exacerbate my concerns about the person making them.
I am not the only person who has had such an experience and I have been contacted by others who are concerned by the reaction of Social Work Tutor to what they have seen as genuine and reasonable comment. It is not for me to comment on their experiences here – unless of course they would like me to – but what I have heard has caused me serious concern.
What I would hope to see from anyone who claims to be an important or significant voice in their field, is that they respond to challenge by seeing it as an opportunity rather than a threat. It isn’t difficult to distinguish the grunting of trolls who just want to destroy, from someone who genuinely wants to understand more about why you say what you do. If someone insults your appearance, your sexuality or uses foul language – block them, move on, they aren’t worth your time.
But if someone raises a genuine concern and you respond immediately with threats of legal action, or demands for an apology or silence – what are you? And what are you trying to do?
I think this is particularly important when someone anonymous professes to be a voice of a particular profession and who appears to be getting some financial advantage via their activities by selling mugs and T shirts. Just what is being protected here?
I’ll leave you with the wise words of Ryan – a great example of nominative determinism…
Really important SW and those associated with profession read this. Monster and battle narrative should be condemned. https://t.co/8gMphX13G1
— Ryan Wise (@ryanwise18) February 27, 2017