I get great questions all the time from schools about social media. This particular question warranted a special blog post because I will bet that the same question has popped up at your school!
The email read:
I am wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing your brief insight on the topic of names on Facebook. We had an inquiry from a community member (not a parent of a student) pertaining to student names we have on Facebook along with photos of our students. The issue was that they were concerned with human trafficking/kidnapping and potentially giving out information.
I look back at the last 45 days and out of 112 posts, there were 10 where full student names (first and last) were present. Of these 10, 2 were because a student was holding a certificate or school work with their name, 4 were posts shared from other Facebook pages (basketball, wrestling, childcare, and booster club), and the others were in a group of 10 or more students so they were named in their order from left to right.
I guess my main question is, is this a concern that others have brought up and/or how is it handled at most schools?
This is a great question with quite a few angles, so let’s break this down.
Permission to Post Photos on Facebook
Student privacy is a legal matter that must be followed by every school. I’m going to keep it simple here. I’m just talking about photos and names. Because of the FERPA law (Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act), schools must ask for permission to use student photos and names on the website, in the newspaper, and on social media.
Getting that approval happens in two ways – either opt-out or opt-in.
Most schools operate under an opt-out process. Opt-out means that every child is assumed to be allowed to be pictured unless they receive a form back from the family saying they can’t.
If your school uses an opt-in process, then the process is reversed. You assume no student can be pictured unless you have a form allowing them to be. In that case, you have to collect a form for every student in your school before you can use their photo.
An opt-out process is much easier to manage because you will likely have just a few parents that choose, for whatever reason, not to have their child’s photo used.
No matter which process you follow, my suggestion is to keep your forms simple. I’ve heard of some schools where they have various levels of permission granted. For example:
- You can use my child’s name, but not their photo
- You can use my child’s photo in the newspaper, but not on social media
- You can use my child’s photo in the yearbook, but not on any other media
You can quickly see how this option will make it nearly impossible to manage on a daily basis! Most schools we work with have only a handful of students that can’t have their photo shared on social media.
Make your form simple. Either the child’s photo can be included on everything or nothing. Some schools even include the yearbook as a part of this permission. This means that if they are opt-out, they opt-out of every form of media including sharing their photo in the school yearbook.
Should We Include Names at All?
Your district should make a decision about whether you will include names early on in your social media journey. Will you include names on social media posts?
My philosophy is that if you would list out the names in a newspaper article, you should include them on social media. After all, the newspaper is likely online, so the students’ names will already be available for people to see. This would include posts about special recognition and awards. For everyday posts that simply show students in action, we don’t include names.
Why not include names on every post? On social media, I hope you’re sharing a LOT of photos from your school. On many of our school district pages, we are posting more than 3 times per day. If we had to include a name for every single photo we posted, we would be in trouble!
So when it comes to your district policy on including names, there are many variations:
- No limits – use names as often as you want
- Include names (first and last) on special recognition posts only like an award, scholarship, etc.
- Include names (first and last) on only high school posts
- Include only first name and last initial on posts that warrant the students being identified
- Never include names
What you decide is completely up to your school. It’s just important that once you make a decision, you follow it strictly.
You’ll need to watch the photos you use to ensure you follow the policy you decide to use. As Amber’s email indicates above, some photos show full names in the certificate that the student is holding. Other photos like the one below include names inadvertently because of student names being printed on desks. We’ve opted to edit those photos to put a colored bar over the name so it is not legible on districts where full names aren’t allowed.
But What if Someone Else Tags a Name in the Comments?
You can have direct control over what you post as the school, but what if someone comments on the photo and tags someone?
First off, we never allow tagging directly on the photos we post on our school’s social media pages. While this might garner more views, we don’t recommend it. After all, when someone is tagged directly in a photo, it shows up on their personal Facebook page.
Second, we cannot control all of the comments made on our posts. While we need to keep things safe, following the social media commenting guidelines you have set up for your school, we can’t control everything that is put in the comments. You can hide or even delete those tagged names of students or their parents – but that would be a full-time job in itself!
What’s Your Policy?
So what is your policy at your school district? We’d love for you to share it with a comment below. We can all learn from one another.
And if you don’t have a policy yet, we strongly encourage you to tackle this topic. It will make your job much easier as a social media manager for your school!
And speaking of making your job easier, have you heard of our new online membership program? It’s virtual professional development that is available 365 days per year! There are more than 40 recording training topics and an open forum to ask your questions as they arise. Learn more at https://socialschool4edu.com/services/membership-program/.