Privacy fears stop youth professionals using social media

Gabriella Jozwiak
Friday, August 23, 2013

Almost a quarter of professionals who work with young people do not use social media because of concerns around privacy, a poll suggests.

The survey by online media training organisation Online Youth Outreach found 23 per cent of youth workers and teachers said using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook risked blurring professional boundaries.

The results were compiled through an online survey of 60 practitioners and group discussion with 25 youth workers.

Of those who did not use social media, 31 per cent said this was because of restrictions imposed by their employer.

The second most common reason for not using social media was lack of experience (24 per cent) while the remainder blamed a lack of policy guidelines, safeguarding concerns and time pressures.

Of the professionals who did use social media, 42 per cent said they used it to promote or provide information about their organisation rather than communicate with young people.

Only 20 per cent used social media to directly engage with young people.

Online Youth Outreach chief executive Katie Bacon said those who work with young people needed to use social media to maintain their relevance.

“Offline, localised youth service provision is diminishing due to government cutbacks and practitioners need to gain digital skills to connect, communicate and offer support to their target audiences in a variety of formats, including digital and social media,” said Bacon.

“Funding and commissioning bodies will also expect organisations to have credible and robust social media strategies which dovetail their organisational business and marketing strategies as standard practice within the next five years.”

She said organisations that were nervous about privacy issues surrounding social media should involve young people when developing e-safety policies and risk assessments to ensure they matched young people’s needs.

She also encouraged youth professionals to place young people at the forefront of their digital communications by creating “digital champion” roles for young people, who “create, disseminate and curate social media content”.

British Youth Council chief executive James Cathcart backed the recommendations.

“As a youth voice and youth-led organisation, social media is critical to our communication in both informing and representing young people, and we’ve seen its use grow massively in recent years,” said Cathcart.

“It allows direct real-time contact and, if used properly, it can be very empowering for young people.

“We welcome the recommendation that students are designated champions and are involved in teacher, practitioner or manager forums to develop safeguards and standards.”

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