Social media information and guidelines
The phrase "social media" refers to the developing range of web-based and mobile telephone technologies and internet-based applications that allow for communication and the creation and exchange of user-generated content. Enabled by widely available and accessible mobile electronic devices, social media has substantially changed the way organisations, communities and individuals communicate.
Whilst it can be both an essential and valuable communications tool for those providing services for people in the Church, it also presents challenges if the user is to avoid what can be quite significant pitfalls in practice. Most of these challenges revolve around maintaining professional boundaries between work and private life with a view to protecting both the providers of services and those who use or receive them. In being aware of this, it is vital to remember that some of the challenges relate to how the conduct of paid staff and volunteers in formal roles in the Church might be perceived as potentially harmful or inappropriate. The perceptions of an individual or an organisation are governed by beliefs, values, attitudes, life and professional experience etc. Consequently, what may look or sound okay to one person may be misunderstood or misconstrued by another and might well be considered harmful and inappropriate.
The following information is written from a safeguarding perspective and seeks to identify good practice with a view to preventing harm or abuse to children and adults at risk or minimising the likelihood of it happening. This supplements more detailed information about keeping children, young people, adults at risk and paid staff and volunteers in churches safe.
The Safeguarding Service can only offer advice on the safeguarding implications of your activity and not the detail of how to set up a particular service, e.g., online teaching, online games and telephone support services.
We have identified a number of underpinning principles (things that are important or right to do) and have used these to generate a set of questions that workers and volunteers should ask themselves before using social media. The questions are designed to be used as a checklist before any type of social media is used or to review its ongoing use. This checklist should be considered as a generic safeguard for using mobile phones, social networking sites, blogs, text messaging, the taking of digital photographs or recording videos etc. It should be a spur to staff and volunteers to make a judgement about keeping themselves (as workers) and those they are working with (children and adults at risk) safe. Ideally the checklist should be employed in safeguarding training with a variety of different scenarios involving the use of different types of social media.
The use of social media is open to different interpretations and perceptions of what is appropriate and what is not. It can involve the transmission of words, sounds, and moving and still images, all of which have the potential to be harmful in a safeguarding sense, hence the importance of making joint decisions and seeking advice.
Click on the headings below for more information.
Is the information you are about to share personal or confidential? Can the person be identified (by words or images)? Refer to the Photography and Video Guidelines for more information.
Informed consent must be provided.
Do the people you work with have access to personal information about you? e.g., via Facebook?
What type of personal information is available and how may that affect perceptions about you in your professional (work) role? Could this be perceived to be damaging to you personally or in your work role?
As a worker, make sure your line manager is fully aware of what media you use in work. If in doubt discuss it with them.
Whatever social media you are using in work: Is it clear that you are representing the Church?
Generally, you should not use your personal mobile phone, email address or Facebook account or similar to communicate with children, young people or adults at risk.
Any photographs/videos taken while carrying out your professional role should not be posted on your personal Facebook account or any other social media site.
What is your gut feeling about the communication? If you feel even slightly uneasy about something you are about to publish, then you probably shouldn’t publish it. If in doubt, discuss it with your line manager first.
Examples of types of social media
(Note this is not an exhaustive list)
- Email and messenger services
- Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter
- Video-sharing sites such as YouTube and TikTok
- Text messaging via mobile phones or apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp
- Digital photography (cameras, video, camera phones)
- Online message and discussion boards (i.e., Reddit)
- Photo sharing sites (i.e., Instagram)
Having a Facebook page that advertises the work being done by your congregation is a good initiative. The page could provide details such as: what the youth group does, when it meets and who it is for.
The following advice is offered, not to discourage the use of social media, but to ensure that children are kept safe.
Facebook privacy controls should be set up so that only children and their families have access to any videos and photographs. Facebook privacy controls enable information to be shared with a defined group: friends, friends of friends or everyone.
Has informed consent been provided by parents/carers? e.g., do all parents know that images/videos appear on the page and are they content with this? Most are likely to be, but not all. Those who are not must be able to have their children opt out of appearing on the page. Refer to the Photography and Video Guidelines.
Explore setting up a Facebook Group rather than a Facebook Page, which would enable more control over who sees and can download information and images.
Reassess what the purpose of the Facebook page/group is. It is useful to consider the following when setting up a web page or a Facebook page/group: What personal or group information do you want to share and with whom and why? Is it everyone, just the children, just the Church or just the children and their families or friends?
As a general rule, do not allow children to give out personal information such as school, home address, phone number, photos, etc. in chat rooms, on message boards and especially not to strangers.
Questions before using social media
WHAT information do you want to capture, store, transmit, communicate or use?
WHY did you choose this particular type of media?
WHAT is the purpose of using this social media?
WHAT privacy settings and controls have you set for the media?
WHO is the target audience? (A defined group of people or everyone?)
WHO can see the information posted? Anyone, or have safeguards or tools been used to set limits, e.g., Facebook group rather than Facebook page?
WHO is identified (images/words/sounds) in the communication?
WHOSE consent is required?
HOW will you establish their consent?
HOW may others interpret the information? Can the information you want to share be easily misunderstood or misinterpreted? If in doubt check with your line manager and get a second opinion. Re-read before sending/ posting.
Many of the areas have already been covered above. However, your congregation might also want to consider:
- The location children or protected adults may join from and what can be seen and heard on screen
- How will they be supervised and what are the expectations of participation and attendance?
- How will parents/carers be contacted and involved?
- Do workers/volunteers have the necessary skills and access to technology?
- Who will provide technical support?
Rules for using social media
Workers, volunteers, children and young people or adults (protected or otherwise) should not:
- Search for or download pornographic, racist or hate-motivated content
- Illegally copy or play copyrighted content where permission has not been given
- Send, request or display offensive messages or pictures
- Harass, insult or bully others
- Access the internet using another person's login details
- Access, download, send or receive any data (including images) which the Church of Scotland may consider to be offensive in any way, including sexually explicit, discriminatory, defamatory or libellous material
Violations of the acceptable user policy may result in:
- A temporary or permanent ban on internet use
- Disciplinary action
- Where applicable, reporting to police or local authorities
Social media policy
Congregations should only use workers or volunteers who have been safely recruited (including PVG Scheme or DBS membership where appropriate) and are deemed to have the appropriate skills for the task they are being asked to undertake.
Transparency/openness: Tell others what it is you want to communicate and why.
Keeping people safe: The worker (paid and volunteers) and the child/adults at risk or service users.
Line management arrangements must be clear and understood by all. Line managers have an important role to play in ensuring that safeguarding advice is implemented.
Text and any other media posted should be subject to an acceptable use policy.
Strive to maintain good and open relationships with parents and carers regarding communication with them, their children and/or protected adult relative.
Consent: Seek child and parental/carer consent for the use of internet technology. Receive informed consent from all involved (or their parents/carers) if their words or images are to be transmitted and made public or shared with a selected group of people. Refer to the Photography and Video Guidelines and the SG19 Media Consent Form.
Privacy: Respect for individuals’ personal information. Do not share personal information or seek personal information other than that which is appropriate to your role.
Separate the private (home) from the professional (paid or voluntary work). Explicitly maintain boundaries.
Be circumspect in your communications with children and/or protected adults to avoid any possible misinterpretation of your motives or any behaviour which could be construed as grooming.
If children want you to have their mobile phone numbers, email addresses or similar and to communicate with them this way, make sure that their parents know and have agreed and that everyone is clear about GDPR requirements. Please refer to the data protection advice on the Law Circulars section of the Church of Scotland website
All social media interaction between workers, paid or voluntary, and children under 18 should be limited to monitored/administrated groups. Only contact children for reasons related to the work of the Church.
Email should only be used to communicate specific information, e.g., events etc.
Email/internet communication with children or protected adults should take place during working hours. Any communication made outside working hours should be agreed with your line manager.
Maintain a log and dated history of all electronic contact with individuals or groups, including email, messaging and texting. Any private messages should be recorded for safeguarding purposes.
Where possible, only use equipment provided by the Church to communicate with children and protected adults.
Be clear and explicit about information that you need to share with others. Be explicit about the limits of confidentiality and that disclosure of harm and abuse must be passed on to the Safeguarding Service and perhaps others to keep them safe. Otherwise, respect a child and protected adult's right to confidentiality.
Any safeguarding concerns or allegations arising from social media should be referred on to the congregation's Safeguarding Coordinator and/or the Safeguarding Service.
Ensure your church’s domain name and logo appears with every Internet post made by a church computer user. Any user may thus be viewed as a representative of your church while conducting business on the Internet.
All users of social media must be above the minimum age limit, e.g., 13 years for Facebook. Please ensure that if you are using other interactive methods, e.g., Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams etc. that you abide by the Terms and Conditions for end users and that children, young people and/or parents/carers also know what these are, agree with them, and abide by the acceptable user policy. They should be explicitly aware of how these applications will make use of their personal data and how you will also secure their personal data in line with GDPR requirements.
Workers should ensure that privacy settings are of the highest levels of security and that recording is disabled in all cases.
Workers should ensure that video conference notification emails are checked to verify the sender in all cases.
It is also recommended that web versions are used as far as possible. Only existing installed apps should be used. For example, Zoom wants to install software onto the user device and there is a concern this may cause problems. If the user is new to Zoom, they should use the web/online option and not install software to their own device unless absolutely confident that it is genuine.
Use of Skype and any other web camera or visual communication via the internet is generally not advised. However, if this is the only or best means of communication, workers should refrain from using such methods on a one-to-one basis. In addition, please refer to the recommended adult to child ratio as set out in Managing and Reducing Risk.
Skype or other web cameras can be used for conference calls and are considered appropriate for a project or group to use in a group environment for project purposes where there are clear aims and objectives for its use
All social media groups should provide links to statutory authorities such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) to enable children to report online abuse
A telephone support service open to all is not regarded as regulated work as per the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007. However, congregations offering a telephone support service must ensure that the person undertaking the task has the necessary skills, training and equipment to carry out their role.
The person should know what to do should a person make a disclosure of harm or abuse to them. This includes where a person may indicate that they might self-harm.
If you suspect harm or abuse, or it is reported to you, it is important to share this immediately with your line manager and/or your Safeguarding Coordinator who will contact the Safeguarding Service for advice.
If you think the person is in immediate danger, contact the police in the first instance and the Safeguarding Service afterward.
Below are links to websites designed to help keep young people safe while using the internet and social media.
- Internet Matters: Practical advice to help parents and carers keep children safe online
- Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP): How to make a report of online abuse or concerning communication with an underage person
- thinkUknow: The education programme from NCA-CEOP, a UK organisation which protects children both online and offline
- UK Safer Internet Centre: The latest tips, advice and resources to help children and young people have a safe and positive time online.
- respectme: Scotland's anti-bullying service
- Police Scotland – Keep Secure Online