Social media and online safety

Last updated: 15 May 2020
Overview

Using social media safely with children and young people

There are lots of benefits for children and young people when using social media. This includes staying connected with friends and family, enabling innovative ways of learning and creating new ways for them to express themselves.

It can also have many benefits to organisations, for example:

  • staying in contact with children outside of face-to-face meetings, activities and events
  • providing specialist support to children, such as counselling and therapy
  • promoting events
  • livestreaming activities
  • creating online groups, forums and communities.

But there are risks when you’re using social media to communicate with children.

Online risks

Children may be exposed to upsetting or inappropriate content online, particularly if the platform you’re using doesn’t have robust privacy and security settings or if you’re not checking posts. This content might be sexually explicit or it might be harmful in other ways, such as radicalisation, bullying, or content that's upsetting.

Children may be at risk of being groomed if they have an online profile that means they can be contacted privately.

Children’s posts or profile information may expose personal information and put them at risk. For example, they may talk about their home life, feelings, or thoughts they’ve been having. There may be information that makes them identifiable such as locations of events they are taking part in or visual clues in photographs. Perpetrators may use this information to groom, abuse or exploit children.

Perpetrators of abuse may create fake profiles to try to contact children and young people through the platform you’re using, for example an adult posing as a child. They may also create anonymous accounts and engage in cyberbullying or trolling. People known to a child can also perpetrate abuse.

On many platforms, children can be contacted anywhere and at any time through private messaging or notification alerts. This means it’s harder for them to escape from abusive messages or upsetting content that they are tagged in.

> Read about protecting children from grooming

> Find out more about cyberbullying

> Find out more about protecting children from online abuse

Putting measures in place

It’s important for organisations and groups to put safeguarding measures in place if they are communicating with children online.

This page provides information on:

  • safeguarding policies and procedures
  • appropriate language and behaviour
  • privacy and consent
  • setting up and managing online forums and communities safely
  • livestreaming safely.

Social media in schools

If you work or volunteer in a school, we’ve provided specific information about how you should safely use social media.

> Find out more about e-safety for schools

Reporting concerns

Concerns about online abuse or inappropriate behaviour should be reported to the person responsible for safeguarding issues within your organisation.

You can also call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000, report your concern online or email us at help@nspcc.org.uk.

> Find out more about recognising and responding to abuse

Creating a safe environment

Creating a safe environment

Policies and procedures

If you work with children and young people you should have online safety policies and procedures.

> Use our online safety policy statement and agreement templates to make sure you’re including everything you need to

Using social media appropriately

Think about whether your organisation needs to use social media to engage with or contact children and young people. If you do, you should consider how to make sure this is done safely and appropriately.

Online behaviour and codes of conduct

Set out the behavioural standards you expect from adults working or volunteering online with children, and from the children and young people themselves.

Your code of conduct for adults should remind them to always:

  • use accounts that have been authorised by your organisation to communicate with children and young people (never use personal accounts)
  • turn on privacy settings on accounts that are used to interact with children and young people
  • use an organisational device to communicate with young people (if this isn’t possible, senior managers should authorise individual staff and volunteers to use a personal device on a case-by-case basis and keep a record of this authorisation and who can see the communication)
  • ensure all communications are relevant to the work of the project and organisation
  • use age-appropriate language.

> Use our behaviour code templates for adults and for children to set clear rules about online behaviour

Staff and volunteers should also be aware of their digital footprint. Children, young people and families may look up the personal social media accounts of people who are working with them so these should be free of inappropriate or harmful content and not provide any personal information such as personal email addresses or phone numbers.

It’s best practice for staff and volunteers not to accept friend requests on their personal accounts from children and families they work with.

> Find out more about how staff and volunteers can manage their online presence by listening to our podcast on enhancing online safety for children

Safer recruitment

Anyone working with children, online and offline, must follow safe recruitment practices, which help make sure your staff and volunteers are suitable to work with children.

> Find out more about safer recruitment

Privacy and consent

If you’re planning to use the internet to provide or host activities that involves direct interaction with children online, you will need written consent for children to be involved. You should get this from parents, carers and the children themselves as appropriate.

Explain exactly what the activity is, why it needs to happen online and what the benefits and risks are.

> Tailor our example consent form to meet your needs

You should consider when and whether it is appropriate to allow children to share pictures or videos of themselves. If it is appropriate for the activity, then you should get permission from children and their parents.

> Find out more about photography and sharing images

Responding to concerns

Your policies and procedures should set out what to do if there are any concerns about a child’s safety online, or if a child says anything online that raises concerns about their wellbeing.

> Find out more about recognising and responding to abuse

We’ve provided more specific information about responding to concerns about:

Online communities

Online communities

Online communities can give your organisation wider reach and enable you to connect with more children and young people.

Communities can be hosted on online forums, websites or social media. Different platforms and apps enable different benefits, such as instant messaging, personal profiles and facilities for hosting and sharing online events. But there are also risks.

You may set up a social media page for your group without the intention of establishing a community. However, once people start interacting with your page, it becomes an online community and you have a responsibility to take steps to keep everyone who uses it safe.

Make sure the children, young people, staff and volunteers in your online community know who to talk to if they see or hear anything upsetting or inappropriate.

As well as following your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures, there are specific safeguarding measures that you need to consider if you run an online community.

Things to consider when setting up an online community

Who can join the community?

Set an age range and consider how you will check that community members are the right age.

Where will the community be hosted?

Consider which platform will best keep children safe from abuse and keep their interactions private. Make sure the platform you’re using is appropriate for the age group you’re targeting and that your organisation has the capacity to maintain it properly.

> Visit Net Aware, created in partnership with O2, for information and advice on the latest social networks, apps and games children and young people are using

What information can be shared?

Setting up your community as an online site or forum may allow you to have more control over the level of personal information that is visible to others.

Encourage parents, carers and children to turn on privacy and security settings on all online accounts. They can call our O2 NSPCC Advice Line on 0808 800 5002 for further support on how to set up parental controls and privacy settings.

How will the community be moderated?

To make sure children are not exposed to harmful or inappropriate content you will need to moderate your community. This means checking and reviewing what people are posting to assess whether children may be at risk.

Make sure the staff or volunteers who run and moderate your community are safe to do so. Anyone who works with children, online or offline, should be subject to safer recruitment practices.

> Find out about safer recruitment policies, procedures and questions

To moderate effectively, you should:

  • publish clear guidance on what is and is not allowed to be posted
  • establish when posts will be moderated, for instance whether they are reviewed before or after they go live
  • decide when children will be able to post and submit content
  • familiarise yourself with the language children use so that you understand whether the language may be inappropriate or harmful.

> For more information, listen to our podcast for information on enhancing online safety for children

Livestreaming

Livestreaming

Livestreaming can be used to broadcast events or activities to children and young people in real time, from anywhere and at any time. Children may be able to participate in the stream or choose to watch. Some livestreams can also be saved and kept on social media platforms to view later.

To create a safe environment for children in any livestream, you must take safety considerations into account., as well as following your safeguarding policies and procedures.

Joining a livestream

If children are joining a livestream that you aren’t hosting, they will still be able to participate through posting audio, written comments or liking and sharing the stream.

  • Familiarise yourself with the type of content to be used in the stream and check its appropriate and relevant.
  • Find out how the stream will be used by the host in future. Will it be kept for archive purposes and will it be broadcast as a recorded event?

Before any livestream, remind children of the following, whether they are watching or participating.

  • Live streaming is live, in real time. Any comments children make will be seen by others, and they may not be able to delete or edit what’s been said. It can become part of their digital footprint.
  • Children shouldn’t share any personal information during a livestream. Remind them what personal information is and not to respond to contact requests from people they don’t know.
  • Some livestreams request donations from the audience. Explain to children and young people that they don’t have to contribute.
  • Make sure they know who to tell if they see or hear anything upsetting or inappropriate.

Familiarise yourself with the privacy settings of the platform you’re using and how to report any offensive or abusive content.

> Visit Net Aware for more information about social networks’ privacy and security settings

If children are participating in the livestream, make sure the activity is observed by appropriate adults.

Hosting a livestream

Hosting a livestream means any situation where you instigate, publish and are responsible for streaming online content.

  • Even if a participating child can’t be seen in your stream there may still be identifying information such as their name, email address or a link to their social media account. Never reveal the full identity of individual participants and keep any identifying information private. Be particularly sensitive to the needs of those who may have child protection concerns.
  • Consider how to make sure your livestream only includes the people you’ve invited. For example, you might be able to ask your audience to register to watch the stream and issue a log in and password. Or you could look into using a custom platform if you regularly livestream.
  • Consider which platform to use. Some free platforms such as YouTube or Facebook Live do not allow you to restrict the audience.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of individual children, for example those who may be sensitive to particular topics or issues that may arise during the livestream.
  • Make sure the platform you’re using is accessible to d/Deaf and disabled children. For example, you could use screen readers or subtitling.
  • If you’re appearing in the livestream, make sure your surroundings and environment are appropriate.