Social workers 'targeted' in online abuse

Social workers 'targeted' in online abuse

Social workers are being targeted for abuse on social media, an Oireachtas committee was told.

The Irish Association of Social Workers has said it is aware of some of its members being targeted for online threats and abuse. 

The representative body was speaking after the chief executive officer of the Child and Family Agency, Bernard Gloster, told an Oireachtas committee this week that there had been an increase in the number of incidents of its staff being targeted. 

A Tusla spokesperson later said the agency had noticed "a marked increase in the severity of social-media targeting of individual staff, and while this is usually conducted by a small group of people, and does not represent the overall relationship Tusla has with the public, it is a matter of increasing and serious concern and one we intend to monitor closely". 

The spokesperson also said that where staff have been exposed to threats and intimidation on social media, Tusla had liaised with the gardaí and social media companies as necessary. 

Association chair Aine McGuirk, said of the issue of growing threats and intimidation: "Have we knowledge of it? Absolutely, that the staff in this work can be subjected to quite a serious level of threat and this has changed significantly with social media."

Ms McGuirk said members were cautioned about their use of social-media platforms, which she said also facilitated those who wanted to issue abuse or threats.

"Social media is all so spur of the moment, lash a threat out there and it is in the air and the problem then with that is even if you are not checking in with that [platform], if you then have people coming to you saying 'oh I saw this person said that about you on social media'."

She said that while measures are in place to support social workers, more could be done when people "become the target" for doing their job.

"I think the employer needs to do more," she said.

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