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Section 12. Use of Social Media

Social media sites enable users to create and share content and keep in touch with other users. They include maintaining a profile page on a networking site such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat; writing or commenting on a blog, whether it is your own or the blog of another person; taking part in discussions on web forums or message boards. For many, especially young people, using social media is an extension of physical face to face relationships. It is therefore important that churches also engage with their community and worshippers through these platforms. However, this must be done safely to avoid the risk of:

  • Forming inappropriate relationships.
  • Saying things you should not, such as offensive, sexual or suggestive comments.
  • Blurring the boundaries between public work/ministry and your private life.
  • Grooming and impersonation.
  • Bullying and harassment.

The Role of the Chaplaincy Council

The Chaplaincy Council must approve the use of social media and mobile phones by the church. Where there are Facebook or similar online groups set up on the church’s behalf, the Chaplaincy Council must ensure there is a named person to whom all workers are accountable.

The named person must be a church officer, who should be a colleague or supervisor, and should be aware of the account name and password so that they can at any time log on to the account to monitor the communications. The named person should be proactive in fulfilling this role.

Communications must be shared with the named person. Church officers remain bound by professional rules of confidentiality. Where there is concern that a young person or adult is at risk of abuse, or they themselves pose a risk of abuse to others, safeguarding procedures must always be followed.

Guidance for Church Officers

DO
  • Have your eyes open and be vigilant.
  • Maintain the upmost integrity – honesty, transparency, consistency and accountability are key. Treat online communication with children, young people and adults as you would communication that is face to face. Always maintain the same level of confidentiality.
  • Report any safeguarding concerns that arise on social media to the local Safeguarding Officer, incumbent and/or Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor (DSA).
  • Always assume that everything you write is permanent and may be viewed by anyone at any time; that everything can be traced back to you personally as well as to your colleagues or the church. Always think before you post.
  • Draw clear boundaries around your social media usage associated with your private life and your use of different social media for public ministry. Keep church account/s and profiles separate from your personal social media account/s; e.g. only use a Facebook page, Twitter or blogs for public ministry, while keeping a separate Facebook profile for private life.
  • Always ask parents/carers for written consent to:
    • use and store photographs of children/young people from activities or events in official church publications, or on the church’s social media, website and displays.
    • use telephone, text message, email and other messaging services to communicate with young people.
    • allow young people connecting to the church’s social media pages.
  • Only use an approved church/ministry account to communicate with children, young people and/or vulnerable adults. The named person should be able to access this and review conversations, and the account should be visible to young people and their parents. Young people must be made aware that any communication will be viewed by all users. Save any messages and threads through social networking sites, so that you can provide evidence to the named person of your exchange when required.
  • Avoid one-to-one communication with a child or young person.
  • Use clear and unambiguous language in all communications and avoid abbreviations that could be misinterpreted.
  • Save and download to hard copy any inappropriate material received through social networking sites or other electronic means and show immediately to the named person, local Safeguarding Officer, incumbent or, if appropriate, Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser.
  • Use passwords and log off promptly after use to ensure that nobody else can use social media pretending to be you.
DO NOT
  • Use a personal Facebook or any other social media account in your work with children, young people or vulnerable adults.
  • Add children, young people or vulnerable adults as friends on your personal accounts.
  • Facebook stalk (i.e. look through people’s Facebook pages to find out about them).
  • Say anything on social media that you would not be happy saying in a public meeting, to someone’s face, writing in a local newspaper or on headed notepaper.
  • Comment on photos or posts, or share content, unless appropriate to your church role.
  • Use visual media (e.g. Skype, Facetime) for one to one conversations with young people. Use visual media in group settings only.

In particular, do not allow content to contain or share links to other sites that contain:

  • Libellous, defamatory, bullying or harassing statements.
  • Breaches of copyright and data protection.
  • Material of an illegal nature.
  • Offensive sexual or abusive references.
  • Inappropriate language.
  • Anything which may be harmful to a child, young person or vulnerable adult, or which may bring the church into disrepute or compromise its reputation.

Mobile Phones

Wherever possible, church officers should be supplied with a mobile phone dedicated for work purposes. This allows for the phone to be switched off outside working hours, and for usage to be accountable. This means that the work phone number is the only number that young people or adults are given, and the church officer’s personal number can remain private. Texts or conversations that raise concerns should be saved and passed on to the named person or the local Safeguarding Officer / incumbent (or, if unavailable, the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor (DSA)).

For further information, please refer to the Church of England's Social Media Community Guidelines and Charter.

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