As children's ministries leaders and volunteers, child safety is one of our top priorities. And as a part of that we understand that the right to individual privacy is important.
So how do we go about navigating the world of Facebook? Especially with all the recent controversy that has surrounded the brand.
This is post one in a series on helping you as a volunteer or leader, navigate the use of Facebook for your ministry.
Understanding how Facebook works, as well as having open communication between leadership and parents is vitally important to establishing an appropriate practice for your ministry.
When considering how to use Facebook, here are some helpful analogies:
Personal Timeline | An individual in a public space
Whether what you say (share) is heard by those closest to you, or is loud enough to be heard by the entire room is determined by the volume of your voice (the privacy setting of your post). However, bear in mind, that someone can always repeat what you've said (in this case, even by taking a screenshot of what may be a strongly protected post).
Private Messages (to individuals or groups) | A group of individuals in a CLOSED ROOM
You know who is in the room, and therefore the extent of who can "hear" what is being said. However, individuals can still repeat what you've said by either using the "share" feature or via screenshots. Private messages bring with it their own set of child safety concerns - see notes below.
Pages | A public notice board
Anything shared on a Facebook Page is PUBLIC and can only be restricted based on general statistics like location, gender, age, etc. These restrictions are not built for the purpose of protecting privacy - they are built for targeted marketing.
Groups | A room of people
Whether your room is open or closed, and whether or not people can see into the room to know who is in there is all determined by the settings you choose. For children's ministries groups, the best option is to be a CLOSED group, with membership having to be approved. This way, you can see and control who is in the group, but it is not hidden. Secret or hidden groups bring with them their own set of child safety concerns - see notes below. The only situation where a secret group may be appropriate for a ministry area is if there is a member who must keep their location secret and wouldn't want to be seen as part of a group that is location specific.
When considering what information can or should be shared on Facebook, consider who is doing the sharing, and where or how it is being shared. Would you share it in a public space, or on a public notice board for instance? Or would you only share that information if you were in a room where you knew who could see or hear the information?
Pages are good for publicity and marketing - because they are public and potentially visible by ANYONE.
Groups are good for sharing specific information such as details of an upcoming event, photos from a previous one or for parents to be able to coordinate ride sharing, etc.
Personal Timelines are just that - personal and for individual, personal use.
ADDITIONAL NOTE ON CHILD SAFETY:
Where your ministry involves networking with the children (under 18 members) via Facebook - such as a Pathfinder Club - it is important that the same child safety rules apply online as they do in the 'real world':
Avoid having one adult alone with children in a closed space (think private messages and closed or secret groups); and
If a child is a part of a group or private message group, parents should be fully informed (and invited unless that defeats the legitimate purpose of the group).
HELPFUL RESOURCE: National Council of Churches in Australia - Electronic Communication Guidelines [PDF]