Social Networking & Safeguarding 2020

Recently I received an email if this particular post would be updated for 2020 as a lot has changed…so here’s an update:

Background
In 2009 we published a blog about the use of social networking and child protection. In the last 11 years more and more young people have engaged with using social networking and sites like Myspace and Bebo have been replaced with Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp.

Social networking can be a really powerful tool for connecting with young people, plugging events and engaging them in conversation however it doesn’t come without risks.

This blog post contains some tips and things to think about especially with regards to Facebook.

Age of Consent
Many young people are on social networks and often at younger ages than the social networks allow for. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat all have a minimum age of 13 and WhatsApp is 16. If you’re going to use these in youth work it’s important to have parental consent to connect with young people through these (and please don’t use Snapchat!!!).

Tips for Paid Youth Workers

In our previous post back in 2016 we recommended that youth workers have a ‘work’ and ‘personal’ account however this is against Facebook’s terms and conditions and can get all of your accounts closed by Facebook.

Instead, in order to keep your work and personal Facebook separate (in order to maintain professional boundaries and to ensure inappropriate comments by your friends are not visible to young people there are several approaches you might use.

1. The Facebook Page
Facebook Pages give those engaging with them an opportunity to ‘like’ the page and be kept up to date with Page updates. Whilst you need a personal Facebook account to manage a page you don’t have ‘friends’ on a page the same way you do with a personal account. This is probably the best approach for connecting with young people on Facebook (with parental consent) as young people can choose to engage, you can have multiple administrators of your youth group page and young people can privately message the page too. 

2. The List and Privacy Rule Approach
If, for whatever reason, you decide adding young people on your personal Facebook account is the right approach (assuming your organisation’s safeguarding policy reflects this) then you should think about making use of Facebook’s privacy rules and lists.

Lists enable you to cluster groups of friends into categories e.g. ‘young people’. When you post on Facebook you can then choose to exclude this group from seeing your post or solely target them with a post.

Likewise, using privacy rules you can do things like decide which content on your profile certain lists can/can’t view.

Keep in mind though, that for accountability it’s probably best to ensure that someone else can view your profile/messages which is why the page approach is best!

Tips for Volunteers

Often in our churches volunteers are friends of the family and so a blanket ban on volunteers being friends with young people can be tricky however it’s important to make sure they’re aware of your safeguarding policy. We give our volunteers a leaflet when they start to help out and the section on ‘using social networking’ reads as follows;

Social networking can be a helpful tool in working with young people. If you choose to use these in your ministry please ensure that the safe behaviour code continues into the virtual world of social networking sites, keeping your profile appropriate for the viewing of young people.

If you’re contacting young people using these sites always do this in a public way. Do not use instant chat or private messages even if a young person sends you messages using these tools. It is also important that you also avoid using abbreviations such as ‘LOL’ as these can be misinterpreted by parents/guardians.

Remember to apply all the other good practice guidelines discussed within this leaflet in any interaction you have with young people online.

This guidance is still useful for volunteers but a better approach would be to encourage volunteers not to ‘friend’ young people on Facebook but for you to invite some of your volunteers to help you run the Facebook page (as outlined earlier on in this post).

Sample Child Protection Policy on Social Networking

Previously we had a sample policy however it hadn’t been updated recently and whilst safeguarding has been an integral part of my ministry I am not a safeguarding expert and so I strongly recommend that in order to put together an effective safeguarding policy around the use of social media for your organisation you do one (or more) of the following:

  • Look at your denominations website – many denominations such as the Methodist Church and Church of England have policies for the use of social networking on their website. It’s important that you follow these in the first basis.
  • Thirty-One Eight offer lots of great advice on safeguarding (and they’re experts!)
  • Talk with other local organisations…find out what other youth workers do, work together on something and then help keep each other accountable.