Fake News Infiltrated Social Work Long Before It Was Trendy

Fake News. The oxymoron which has become synonymous with modern politics. Whether it’s a lie on the side of a bus or anything being spewed by unpresidential President of the USA, the media is dominated by this idea of “fake news”. The concept is simple: a piece of news, gaining ground or publicity, which is inherently not true. This has been taken and twisted into a term that adds doubt or discredits information, if the individual disagrees with it or the source. It’s become a popular trend when you want to deny the truth, with cases ranging from “any negative polls are fake news” to “Thanos snapping his fingers in Avengers Infinity War and killing our favourite characters is fake news” (I know there’s a new film now, but I’m still not over that Spider-Man scene…)

This new phenomenon of fake news is spreading like wildfire, from country to country, and communities globally are being severely impacted by the high proportion of lies or half-truths in the media. Fake news at times can be tough to spot, so we’ve had to become much more sceptical in our information searches. However, this is not a foreign concept to anyone who’s been around in social work for more than five minutes. We’ve been dealing with the issues of fake news and dishonest reporting for years, and it’s taken it’s toll on our sector gravely.

Nowadays fake news is a minefield, but before it had a catchy name or a recognisable, orange, baffoonish culprit, social workers have had to handle a vast misrepresentation of the sector, from multiple angles.

Never-Ending Negative News

Day after day our sector is bombarded by headlines of funding issues, examples of bad practice or the dire demand on our services. These are sensationalised stories that only look at one very small aspect of the picture, and yet, this is all we ever seem to hear. The number of social workers who protect the vulnerable and make us all proud to be in this business far outweigh the few exceptions to the rule. Social workers have an inherent integrity in their character which is jeopardised by fake news. The general public only hear the worrying headlines, the few troublesome cases amongst hundreds of thousands where those in need were given valuable help; infiltrating their perspectives and impressions of the sector as a whole.

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Misrepresentative Media Portrayals

There’s a simple reason that social workers are painted as a ‘Childcatcher’-esque figures in the media – sensationalism sells. (If you don’t get the ‘Childcatcher’ reference, please see the link here.)

Films or TV shows are popular if there is a villainous character out to ruin the core family, and it’s all too common for this to be the token social worker. Even when social workers aren’t the obvious baddies, their portrayal in the media is rarely flattering or realistic and will regularly spark outcry about the inaccuracies from members of our community (as was seen with TV show Kiri). And if those are the main examples of social workers that your average person will encounter in their time, it will undoubtably have an impact on what they think ‘real’ social work is like. Whereas, the truth is that social workers don’t come to steal children away from families in the night. They work with people in need to facilitate necessary, positive change and ensure people are living fulfilling lives. They are motivated by a desire to help, not a drive to indulge their whims and cruelly impact people’s lives. Sensationalised and extremist images of social workers, tying in to the headlines solely highlighting bad practice, piece together to create an unfair and unkind “brand” for the social work sector.

Discrediting Fake News

The issue with this misreporting and misrepresenting goes further than just “social workers have a bad rep”. Countless people will assume that social work only looks at children’s services, whereas practitioners can offer support to individuals of all ages, backgrounds and facing different challenges. This can mean that adults in need are left missing out, simply because those around them don’t realise the support system already in place to help.

The obvious way forward is to simply prove fake news wrong. But it’s never that simple is it. We have engrained stereotypes and superstitions which are difficult to overcome, as they’ve been festering in the societal psyche for generations. There are also too many channels of communication for us to be able to just snap our fingers and stop fake news (we’ll stop with the Avengers references now).  We need to reframe how the media choose to shine a spotlight on our sector, and the first move there is to encourage promotion of positive stories. Social worker help countless people every day, so lets switch up the headlines. In such tumultuous times, we could all do with a little positivity, so now is the time to shout from the rooftops about the examples of good practice that define social work. This is why we’ve started our “My Social Work Story” Series, so that our community can work together to fight against fake news. Whether factually inaccurate or simply from a limited perspective, fake news is discrediting our community, and it’s time we assemble (okay, *now* we’ll stop) to prove the good that is at the heart of social work.

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Want to help stop the spread of fake news about social work? Are you a social worker on a mission to showcase the good in our sector? Or maybe you feel bombarded by aggressive headlines and you could do with the support from a community of your peers? No matter what your background or drive, we want to bring together people who are passionate about social work and mould the future of our sector together. Join our collective and have your voice heard. 

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