The internet, mobile phones, social networking and other interactive services have transformed the way in which we live. The new technologies offer tremendous opportunities to reach, communicate, evangelise and engage with those involved in the Catholic Church including clergy, parishioners and those in our communities who may have an interest in the church.
The Catholic Church in England and Wales is keen to promote the safe, and responsible, use of communication and interactive communication technologies within all church activities.
These guidelines seek to ensure the message of safe and responsible use of communication and interactive technologies is understood and guidelines are followed within the Catholic Church.
Understanding the technology
Part of the challenge for many adults when considering safeguarding children and young people online is the gap between children’s knowledge of the technology and their own general lack of understanding, knowledge and skills in relation to the online world. Developing a basic knowledge of the technology used within the church can help staff, volunteer helpers and parishioners understand e-safety issues, manage risks and deal with incidents as well as supporting young people and those parents/carers who seek advice and information.
The internet has evolved to become an increasingly dynamic and interactive medium led by social networking services. Thanks to the convergence of technical and communication platforms, services users can now interact with each other across multiple platforms and devices, such as mobile phones, games consoles and PCs (laptops, notebooks, tablets etc.). These services are very popular with children and young people and bring together pre-existing interactive technologies in a single service through email, blogs, gaming, discussion forums, photos, music and videos and live messaging services such as facetime and Skype.
Establishing a Site
Websites or social networking profile pages are the centrepiece of any social media activity. The following are recommended guidelines for the establishment of a site. These can apply to a profile on social networking sites such as Facebook, a blog, a Twitter account, etc.
- Site administrators should be adults.
- There should be at least two site administrators (preferably more) for each site, to allow rapid response and continuous monitoring of the site.
- Do not use personal sites for diocesan or parish programs. Create separate sites for these.
- Passwords and names of sites should be registered in a central location, and more than one adult should have access to this information.
Be sure those establishing a site know these key rules:
- Abide by diocesan/parish guidelines.
- Appreciate that even personal communication by church personnel reflects the Church. Practice what you preach.
- Write in the first person. Do not claim to represent the official position of the organisation or the teachings of the Church, unless authorised to do so.
- Identify yourself. Do not use pseudonyms or the name of the parish, program, etc., as your identity, unless authorised to do so.
- Abide by copyright.
- Do not divulge confidential information about others. Nothing posted on the Internet is private.
- Don’t cite others, post photos or videos of them, link to their material, etc., without their permission. Once posted material often becomes property of the site.
- Practice Catholic teaching and morals..
- Consider adding the Click CEOP Help button
Social Networking with Children and Young People
Be sure to have permission from a child’s parent or guardian before contacting them via social media or before posting pictures, video, and other information that may identify the child or young person, where they live, what school they attend etc.
Parents must have access to everything provided to their children. For example, parents should be made aware of how social media are being used, be told how to access the sites, and be given the opportunity to be copied on all material sent to their children via social networking (including text messages). While parents should be provided with the same material as their children, it does not have to be via the same technology (that is, if children receive a reminder via Twitter, parents can receive it in a printed form or by e-mail).
Church personnel should be encouraged to save copies of conversations whenever possible, especially those that concern the personal sharing of a teen or young adult. (This may be especially important with text messaging.)
Abide by government guidelines that recommend children under 13 should not be using social media.
Where children and young people have access to computers as part of Church activities, the event leader has a duty to ensure that;
- measures are in place to ensure that the likelihood of children and young people accessing inappropriate materials is reduced e.g. parental controls and software to filter out internet material.
- children and young people are aware that their personal details e.g. last name, address, school, passwords, e-mail address and telephone numbers are private and should not be disclosed unless approval is given by the event leader.
- children and young people know that they should never send photographs and should be wary of chat rooms.
- children and young people are aware that they should advise a leader about any e-mails or anything on line that makes them feel uncomfortable or bothers them.
- children and young people are aware that they should advise a leader and their parent/carer of a request to meet up with someone they have met on line and not to make plans to do so without alerting an adult and never go alone to such planned meetings.
- children and young people are advised of a code of conduct for using chat rooms.
Personal sites of church personnel should reflect Catholic values. Church personnel should be encouraged to understand that they are witnessing to the faith through all of their social networking, whether “public” or “private.” Personal views should be cited as such to avoid misunderstandings.
The CEOP help button gives access to help on viruses, hacking, online bullying and enables reporting of people acting inappropriately online www.ceop.police.uk
Reporting and Monitoring
Church personnel must report unofficial sites that carry the diocesan or parish logo to the diocesan communication office or parish priest. It is important that the owner (the diocese or parish) is able to protect its identity and prevent unwanted publications. Any error or misinformation found on a site, such as Wikipedia, should also be reported to the communications officer.
Official sites, especially those that contain access to blogs, should be monitored on a regular basis to prevent any defamatory remarks or inappropriate comments being posted.
Useful links and resources
The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) is a voluntary organisation chaired by Ministers from the Department for Education and the Home Office. UKCCIS brings together over 180 organisations and individuals from government, industry, law enforcement, academia, charities and parenting groups. Some of the organisations UKCCIS works with include: Cisco, Apple, Sony, Research in Motion, the four largest internet service providers, Facebook and Microsoft. www.education.gov.uk
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has numerous resources for parents and carers and children using the internet; there are several video tutorials on the THINKUKNOW site which is part of CEOP. www.ceop.police.uk, www.thinkuknow.co.uk
Lucy Faithful Foundation – Stop It Now – Parents Protect is a registered child protection charity which works to prevent child sexual abuse. It runs ‘Stop It Now!’ and ‘Parents Protect’. Stop It Now! reaches out to adults concerned about their own behaviour towards children, or that of someone they know, as well as professionals, survivors and protective adults. Stop It Now! runs a Freephone confidential helpline. ‘Parents Protect’ is a site to help parents, carers and other protective adults with information and advice to help them prevent child sexual abuse. www.lucyfaithfull.org.uk, www.stopitnow.org.uk, www.parentsprotect.co.uk
Catholic Youth Work site has detailed guidelines on the use of social networking sites and they can be found under resources for youth workers at: www.catholicyouthwork.com
Internet Matters: Parental controls are a great way of preventing children accessing unsuitable content online, see advice at: www.internetmatters.org
Childnet International is a multi-lingual resource site which has a guide on protecting your privacy on ‘facebook’ and a glossary of terms, www.digizen.org, amongst other useful material to download or purchase. www.childnet.com
NSPCC has useful resources for keeping children safe online including sections on Cyberbullying and Sexting.