Social work today: Active participation on- and offline

Pia Enzner

Social work has been slow to tap the tremendous potential that social platforms are offering to mobilise people, bring people together and raise their awareness of the issues of migration. But today, social workers are taking advantage of digital media as tools for participation and community.

by: Pia Enzner

Social work is in direct contact with refugees and people with a migration background, with volunteers and those interested in the field of migration, as well as acting within the broader community. In this way, social work can make an important contribution to successful inclusion.

Counseling sessions, team meetings, elections, training and courses are offered digitally, on location or in hybrid form, optimally adapted to the target groups.

A plethora of algorithms

It is difficult to distinguish between real and fictitious media content. There is no easily distinguishable thematic separation between fact, fiction, opinion or propaganda. What people see on social media depends not only on their personal taste but also on commercial interests and a plethora of algorithms.

Social media amplify opinions, attitudes and behaviours and, subsequently, have the potential to affect us in our daily thoughts and actions. Migration policy is directly affected by this blurring of truth and meaning within the public sphere, with tangible consequences such as racism, exclusion and discrimination.

Yet these media can also motivate and inspire people to copy exemplary attitudes and actions of other individuals in the field of migration. This could be a donation to a local refugee organisation, civic engagement, or taking direct action. Positive role models form the basis for a positive attitude towards refugees and migrants.

The ‘digital divide’ has many shapes and forms

The task of social work is not only to help facilitating neighbourhood engagement in the area of refugees and migration online. Above all, we should actively advocate residents’ access to and use of social media while promoting their safe and reflective use, for example by offering workshops and media training.

Social work must help ensure that financial or socioeconomic status do not lead to exclusion from society. The ‘digital divide’ can take many shapes and forms: Clients must be empowered to advocate for both their right to participate in society and their ability to participate.

Towards a more just European migration policy

Integrating people with a migration and refugee background and their communities into these processes while working towards a more just European migration policy is paramount. At an individual level, social work has the potential to transform mere interest into direct engagement, both online and in the neighbourhood.

Pia Enzner is a social worker and is currently studying for a research-oriented master’s degree in social work at EH Freiburg.