Facebook, Nonprofits, and Youth Programs: Safety and Privacy Issues | Beth's Blog

Facebook, Nonprofits, and Youth Programs: Safety and Privacy Issues

Social Media Policy

Yesterday, Holly Ross at NTEN, mentioned that a common question she gets after talking about Social Media with nonprofits is from organizations that work with students or young people and are concerned about liability issues surrounding what students who “like” their page may post on their page, or on their own walls.   I’ve also gotten similar questions, particularly about whether or not it is “safe” for the organization (and the young people) to post photos on Facebook.

Earlier this week, I met Beatric Ramos who does social media for Alum Rock Counseling, an organization that works with youth on a range of counseling and mentoring programs.   She maintains the organization’s Facebook Page.  I asked her this question on the video above.

Beatrice says that a social media policy spelling this out is essential.    She recognizes that photos of the kids are important to share because it makes the story of their programs come alive, but they want to do it safely.   As part of their policy,  parents sign a release at the beginning of the year that gives her organization to share all photos.

When she takes photos and posts on social media channels, she uses these common sense guidelines:

  • Doesn’t take photos of kids if clothing identifies their school (e.g. wearing a school t-shirt)
  • Doesn’t take photos that identify their school name or recognizable landmark
  • Takes mostly group photos but often will take the photo so it doesn’t show their face, but the back of their head or back lit so the face is not easily recognizable
  • Never includes the names of the kids on the photos or tags them on Facebook
  • On a field trip, will take a group photo, but from far away

They have never had an inappropriate comment on their Facebook Wall from students, but have clear posting guidelines and a social media policy in place that provides education.

Here are some additional links:


What are your best tips for social media policy and guidelines for nonprofits that serve young people?

22 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    Thank you for raising this issue. I am asked this question as well and I believe it relates to why organizations are using their social media – as you so often encourage organizations. Is it linked to programmatic goals – for programs associated with youth? Or is it for fund-raising? Or awareness? That clarity around objective seems to help organizations that serve youth increase their comfort level.

  2. Leslie White says:

    If an organization’s website or other online sites is collecting information from children under age 13 the organization must comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Facebook tries to get around it by requiring participants to be at least 13 but there has been press that Many Facebook account holders are under 13.

    The FTC is responsible for enforcing and regulating the COPPA. Here’s link to their literate on how to comply with COPPA: http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus51-you-your-privacy-policy-and-coppa-how-comply-childrens-online-privacy-protection-act

    The law exempts nonprofits if exempt from coverage under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 45). However that citation is bad and does not take you to any information about nonprofits under the FTC Act. Some nonprofits have decided to not comply while others view compliance as a part of best practices for protecting youth. The act provides good guidance on ways to protect youth.

  3. Beth says:

    Hi Leslie: Thanks for the reference. That’s why it is important for parents to sign releases. Leslie, do you have a reference to an article that spells out clearly the “best practices of protecting youth online” that isn’t legalize — what are the best resources/references?

    There has been a lot of press lately about under age FB account holders. My son, who is 11, asked me for permission to be on FB – I said NO! I was surprised when he told me some of his friends are.

    Anne: Audience definition is important to point out- but photos of people who benefit from the program (if young people) may be something that donors

  4. Beth says:

    @amyrsward told me about a great network of folks who work on youth programs — http://network.youthworkonline.org.uk/ and that Katie Bacon: http://www.katiebacon.co.uk/ had examples of policies. I pinged her on Twitter, hope she will share some links. http://twitter.com/#!/kanter/status/71246139655065600

  5. Two of our clients, the california association of directors of activities and the california associaton of student leaders have discussed social media and student safety many times. In this link (http://cadaleaders.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/is-cyber-bullying-the-issue/) to a recent blog post we really address the key issue of educating our students and youth on the appropriate use / “ettiquete” if you will instead of schools banning the use of technology. I would really encourage others to read this blog and look at a different percpective. While we will always need rules and regulations to protect our youth it goes further then that.

  6. Thank you for sharing the link on the FTCs regulation for COPPA, I was thinking about this discussion from a different percpective obviously.

  7. Beth says:

    Shiela: can you share more about your perspective?

  8. Brian Block says:

    Very important post. We work with domestic violence shelters and at events where survivors are present with their children, any pictures we take, we make sure to get no faces or crop them out later. We only get faces of volunteers, city officials and organizers. Creative photography goes a long way in keeping others out of harm’s way.

  9. Beth says:

    Thanks Brian for sharing your tips.

  10. Cheryl says:

    Thanks for covering this topic Beth. As a former staffer for a Girl Scout council, I have first hand experience with this issue. It’s a tough one and requires lots of attention. Eager well-meaning parents often want to share photos or want you to share photos of their kids doing great things through your organization. While the organization may be just as excited, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. I found talking to parents about the ramifications, especially for kids who (often unlike their own) have sensitive backgrounds or situations, can help everyone stay on the same, safe page.

  11. so so important to be careful with images of children whether online or offline.

    well, my solution is somewhat old school and uncommon. I will sketch one or two on my iPad using SketchbookPro and identify them by initials.

    surprised? you know me better. and for those who don’t, like some of our prospective funders, we have asked participants in our high school to art school portfolio development program to sketch our funders at our gala. now our donors look forward to the hand drawn images of our students as something unique and uniquely fundable.

    remember what they say about the power of the pen?

  12. Israel’s minstry of education published guidelines for teachers about contacting students online a few weeks ago.
    Also there is a law that you cannot publish kids photos without parents’ permission, similar to the act Leslie mentioned.

  13. Betsy Baker says:

    All very good suggestions and guidelines. I just have to reinforce that these are children we are talking about. If they know they’re in these photos they are going to do everything in their power to make sure other kids see them. I think that it’s the responsibility of the organization advertising these photos to just constantly check and make sure that kids aren’t tagging themselves or doing other things to make them targets to predators. In addition, I would suggest that the parents that sign these releases also check the site on a regular basis. Can you tell I’m a mommy? 😉

  14. In my 20 plus years working with youth in nonprofit settings, I have always made my practice to never use pictures of our youth as part of our publicity efforts. We must be cautious not to use our youth in any type of exploitive manner and I have found that many parents can’t show good judgement as to when to permit their child’s picture to be used. I have used generic photos to symbolize the youth we serve. The only exception to this is within our print newsletter where the young person is old enough to sign their own consent. We also do not contribute names or likenesses of our youth to requests for newspaper stories, although in our small town the weekly paper features pictures of youth in great quanitities. Possibly I am over cautious because my experience is working with youth victims, youth in poverty and homeless youth.

  15. Leslie White says:


    Here are some resources for kids’ safety online

    – Stay Safe Online http://www.staysafeonline.org/in-the-home/protect-your-children

    Get Net Wise – http://kids.getnetwise.org/safetyguide/

  16. Marg Durnin says:

    I learned recently that Facebook is using face identification software to identify and tag individuals not tagged in photos, but who may be tagged elsewhere. They say that they use it to let the person know they’ve had a picture posted somewhere else on Facebook! This makes it imperative not to publish any photos with young people but it also raises an issue that groups might want to address with Facebook.

  17. Allison says:

    Any tips on developing and sharing a social media policy with students? We have their parents sign a media release that includes a social media reference but is it necessary to, and if so how do we, receive buy in or permission from adolescents to use their images in social media? We are a public middle school. Thanks!

  18. Great information! But I’m still not clear on whether a non-profit can legally post pictures of children on website or social media without a parent/guardian consent. Keep in mind we do not collect personal information or identify the child in any way. We’ve been told there is no law in CA that restricts us from doing so in any materials to puclicize our program whether online or off.

    Eagerly awaiting your response!

  19. John Galt says:

    Dude The government couldn’t have fathomed a Big Brother system like social networking in there wildest dreams.

    Custom IDX solutions

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  21. […] Yesterday, Holly Ross at NTEN, mentioned that a common question she gets after talking about Social Media with nonprofits is from organizations that work with students or young people and are concerned about liability issues surrounding what students…  […]