When worlds collide: What are Scouts seeing on your Facebook page?

Your boss views your tailgating photos on Instagram, your Facebook friends see you complaining about your job or your Scouts read your tweets in favor of a politician.

You’ve just encountered context collapse. That’s the phrase for something intended for a specific audience that becomes seen by a much wider, unintended audience.

It happens in the real world, like if you run into a coworker, Scout or Scouter at church or a political rally. But it happens even more frequently online, where we can instantly share sometimes-controversial views with a few simple taps on the keyboard.

Eagle Scout Mark Ray, skilled author and regular contributor to both Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines, writes on his blog about this phenomenon:

Thanks to context collapse, your boss can see your vacation photos, your friends can see what you’re saying about work, and — most importantly for our purposes — your Scouts can see what you’re liking on Facebook, whether that’s Lolcats, a political cause or your favorite microbrewery.

We know that more than two-thirds (71 percent, to be exact) of online adults use Facebook, meaning chances are good you’re dealing with context collapse even if you don’t know it. So it’s a good idea to take a second to think about your online existence and who in your life sees what. That’s especially relevant when Scouts are involved.

Mark shares three strategies for dealing with context collapse and making sure you don’t reveal more about yourself than you’re comfortable sharing. Ranging from the most extreme to the simplest, they are:

1: Keep Scouting contacts out of your social networks altogether.

This is the most radical approach and would mean not communicating with Scouts and Scouters at all online.

Though I wouldn’t recommend this isolationist approach, social networking certainly is not mandatory in Scouting, and this would prevent context collapse.

2: Create separate social media accounts for Scouting.

I’ve seen several Scouters use this strategy. They have one Facebook or Twitter account for their Scouting life and another for their personal life.

Only friending non-Scouts/Scouters on Facebook and making your Twitter profile private would facilitate this approach.

3: Adopt a lowest-common-denominator approach where everything you post online is safe for all audiences.

This is the strategy Mark uses. “You’ll never see me post anything online that wouldn’t be appropriate for the youngest Scout to read, and if you want to know about my political leanings or adult-beverage preferences, you’ll have to ask,” he writes.

What’s your strategy?

Let’s keep this going in the comments. Sound off on how you keep your Scouting world and your personal world from colliding in inappropriate ways online. And thanks to Mark for kindling this discussion.

Two reminders

  1. The BSA’s Cyber Chip is a great resource for keeping kids safe online.
  2. I mentioned political rallies earlier. Of course you’re always welcome to attend those during your own time, provided you’re not in uniform. Be sure to read the BSA’s policies on the subject for more details.

Photo from Flickr:  Some rights reserved by barryskeates

34 thoughts on “When worlds collide: What are Scouts seeing on your Facebook page?

  1. Being, at least by today’s standards, a conservative leaning “moderate” and social libertarian in a conservative state and social conservative haven, I simply made sure not to accept friend requests from scouts. In this day and age we have enough trouble discussing different ideas as adults, we don’t need to create issues with scouts who for the most part are simply echoing what they hear at home and have not formed their own opinions yet. Same thing I do with the youth at church. That avoids the issue, at least with scouts.

    Considered the separate account for youth stuff but never did it. Since most of our online communications were geared towards letting the parents know what the scouts inevitably forget to tell them after the meetings, we can rely on email and the troop website. Besides individual mails we have a weekly newsletter that gets mailed out every Wednesday that repeat the contents of some of the messages on the website along with the calendar of upcoming events, meetings and items due. We’ve never had to fall back to social media.

    We also considered a troop Facebook page but knowing how kids like to post things without a lot of thought behind it, we figured it was a problem waiting to happen.

    • I made a Troop Facebook page for my unit. You can set guidlines for who can post what. The admins on the page that I made were a few adult leaders, and the SPL/ASPL, and we were the only ones that could post videos and photos.

      • We’ve gone with a Google community vs a Facebook page, since the sharing and communication are more granular, and the ease of use setting up pics, events, ect, is there as well.

  2. #1 and #2 might have unintended consequences, especially with fb and social media in which you already use your given name (rather than a username, handle, or alias).

    Simply ignoring or unfriending your Scouting contacts is going to send a pretty clear signal that they are not welcome in your social life, which begs the question: “What is Scouting to you anyway if not social?” This could be really difficult to unwind without hurt feelings, especially if you are a unit leader.

    Duplicate accounts, in my opinion, might raise questions as to your intent and violate terms of use policies. In fact, duplicating an account is a favorite tool of scammers these days and causes no end of problems when they seek to “friend” everyone on your friend list.Setting up a page or group account on behalf of the unit is an option but, at least on fb, you will have to join the group with your existing profile which will lead to folks in the unit trying to friend you…….which puts you back at option #1 and the likelihood some feelings are going to get hurt.

    Mark’s option 3 is by far the best choice. Although, I will disagree with him on one point. I don’t see any need to shield folks from politics or religion as long as you behave in a Scout like manner. Posting pics of the family gathered around the seder meal at Passover? Fantastic. Discuss a political issue with civility and intellectual rigor? Absolutely. Our Scouts need to see us Scouters living out the ideals we believe in a public way as Americans. If we sanitize it and shuffle it off to the closet, we merely force them to believe that it is impossible for different people with different beliefs to live together.

    • If I dropped my scouting friends, I’d be down to my 58 cousins, their kids, and my family.

      I’ll stick to lowest common denominator approach.

  3. We have a “private, secret” Facebook page for our Troop. I moderate it along with a couple of other leaders. The membership is mainly parents. We only allow Scouting related posts on the page and haven’t had an issue with it. By making it “private, secret” the posts only show up on your page. If you like something on the page it doesn’t show up in your social feed. To join a member needs to friend me or another leader on FB, I’ll add them and then unfriend them if they are a youth. Nothing personal but I have a policy not friend Scouts on social media. When they age out if they’d like to be FB friends I’ll accept. Years ago we had a leader that would send political rants out on the Troop email list, we had to put a stop to that right away. At this point anyone on the email list can send a note out to all without a moderator approving the note. Since that incident years ago we haven’t had an issue with inappropriate use of the email lists.

    Like Mike I’m on the conservative side politically at least on the fiscal side, more libertarian on the social side. I do visit and comment on other sites. I never use foul language in social media, I won’t “like” something that comes from a site such as “I like f—ing science” that many people will like. Some of their stuff is pretty good but I refuse to like their page because of their stupid name. Really you can’t get your point across without dropping the F-bomb? Oh, you’re so cool you can cuss /sarc If I want to say what the… I will spell it out as what the heck, never the other popular three letter netlingo abbreviations.

      • In reading the policy clearly the BSA doesn’t know the features that are available on Facebook.

        “When creating a Facebook page, you should make it a public fan page. In addition, you should designate at least two administrators who have access to the login, password, and page management/monitoring information. This conforms to the two-deep leadership policies of the BSA. At least one of these page administrators should be a BSA employee, a local council employee, or registered volunteer who has taken Youth Protection training. All Youth Protection policies that govern the use of email are applicable to the use of the messaging capabilities of Facebook.”

        I can see council employees lining up to be administrators to 200 unit Facebook pages. In making them public fan pages photos would be disallowed. The advantage of going private and keeping the membership limited and approved is you can control content much easier.

        We haven’t had issues with our page. The members are for the most part parents. The kids have largely moved on from Facebook as their parents have adopted it.

        • Jeff, please re-read what the policy stated… in part, the following:

          “At least one of these page administrators should be a BSA employee, a local council employee, or registered volunteer who has taken Youth Protection training. All Youth Protection policies that govern the use of email are applicable to the use of the messaging capabilities of Facebook.”

          Note in there where it states “registered volunteer…” The BSA doesn’t expect someone at the Council level to look at yours and everyone else’s Facebook fan page. They expect someone at your unit who has taken the Youth Protection training to do that review and administer the page. As long as you have at least two people looking at the page, everything is fine and dandy.

        • Mike needs to re-read YOUR post, since you specifically say that there are several leaders who are admins on the page. Since leaders MUST have YP training, most if not all of your admins are YP trained.

    • You reinforced my point, ScoutmasterG. The comment was that there’s no Council that’s going to spend all of their time policing up unit Facebook or Twitter feeds… yep, two YP trained adults from that unit should suffice as admins.

  4. I do friend my fellow Scouters, I will not friend any of my son’s friends (Scouts) on Facebook. I have accepted friend requests from the Youth I oversee in Youth Group at church. I make sure anything I post is appropriate or I only allow certain friends to see my posts.
    There is a thing called a FILTER, something we have forgot how to use, whether in our Facebook posts or in the comments that come out of our mouths.

  5. Wait… what’s wrong with Scouts reading tweets in favor of a politician (as long as the adult writing them is appropriate, respectful and behaving in a Scout-like way)? I’ll put a bumper sticker on my car showing who I support in an election; and I’ll bring that car to troop meetings and campouts. I even have parents in my unit who are politicians and run for public offices… their political views are very public! What’s wrong with a Scout seeing that I “like” a specific politician or political cause on Facebook?

  6. What about the Youth Protection side of establishing appropriate online connections with Scouts?

    First, everyone should review and strictly adhere to the terms of service and existing guidelines outlined by each individual social media channel (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.). As is true for participation in Scouting activities, all Scouts and adult leaders should abide by the guidelines outlined in the Scout Oath and Law when participating in social networking. As with a Scouting activity, safety and Youth Protection should be a key focus. Staying true to the commitment of the BSA to be an advocate for youth and to keep children and their privacy safe, both online and off, should always be at the forefront of any considerations where social media usage is concerned.

    To help ensure that all communication on social media channels remains positive and safe, these channels must be public, and all communication on or through them must be public. This enables administrators to monitor all communication and help ensure there is no inappropriate communication between adult leaders and Scouts or between Scouts themselves. Therefore, no private channels (e.g., private Facebook groups or invite-only YouTube channels) are acceptable in helping to administer the Scouting program. Private channels and private communication put both the youth and you at risk. If you feel the information you seek to share via social media channels should not be shared in public, you should not share that information via social media.

    Abiding by the “two deep” leadership policy that governs all Scouting activities also applies to use of social media. Two-deep leadership means two registered adult leaders, or one registered leader and a parent of a participating Scout or other adult, one of whom must be 21 years of age or older, are required for all trips and outings.

    As it relates to social media, two-deep leadership means there should be no private messages and no one-on-one direct contact through email, Facebook messages, Twitter direct messaging, chats, instant messaging (Google Messenger, AIM, etc.), or other similar messaging features provided through social media sites. All communication between adults and youth should take place in a public forum (e.g. the Facebook wall), or at a bare minimum, electronic communication between adults and youth should always include one or more authorized adults openly “copied” (included) on the message or message thread.

    While all communication should be public and leaders should follow the two-deep rule while communicating via social media channels, it is recommended that as you and members of your group create personal social media profiles, the personal information on these profiles should be kept private (e.g., do not display your phone number, address, or personal email address on these profiles). It is recommended that any Scouts with personal profiles for social media make those profiles private so the Scout’s personal information is not accessible by the public. In creating personal profiles, everyone should familiarize themselves with and abide by the terms of service of the sites where they create and maintain personal profiles.

    • I strongly agree with everything Harold wrote above; I was preparing to post my own version but he has stated what the intent is and how the BSA views it.

      Harold mentioned something at the top that I wanted to make sure is highlighted:

      “First, everyone should review and strictly adhere to the terms of service and existing guidelines outlined by each individual social media channel (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.).”

      On Twitter and Facebook, you are *prohibited* from establishing a “faux” account to separate your “Scouting you” from your “public or private you”. I haven’t read the YouTube guidelines in detail, but I am pretty sure that it applies there as well.

      Several has stated that one needs to understand that like in face-to-face conversations, one must apply a “filter” when you are using a social medium as well.

      In my life as a military officer, a Department of Defense employee, a father to a dozen and one children, as a single man, as an Eagle Scout and Christian, there are elements of each of those I don’t want to share with everyone and their uncle. There are other elements which I choose to share with those close to me; and other elements I freely share with anyone who asks. A part of being a positive role model for Scouts call for me — and you if you’re a Scouter — to exercise your personal “filters” whenever you’re talking or sharing things on your Facebook or Twitter “slice”.

      Unfortunately, while one can “filter” oneself, a lot of times we can’t “filter” what OTHERS say online — or the images and graphics they post. Sometimes, I can “catch it” before it is shared with everyone else and delete or hide the message or comment; other times, it’s done when I’m not online or unavailable to do anything about it, and I have to remind my “friends” that they are not the only ones who communicate with me via these means — and to exercise some level of composure when posting to *my* Facebook slice.

      I can’t and won’t berate anyone who do not share my personal views and values. It’s their views and values, and they are entitled to them.

      Like all things, the entire social media/communication effort is a TOOL, one of many and we all have to learn how to work a bit more effectively with it.

  7. Simple, “My Boys” are not in my friends circle on facebook. Their parents (some of them) might be, but they themselves are not.

  8. I do friend Scouters on my Facebook page. I never post anything political simply because I don’t feel the need. As for Scouts, I have the policy of not accepting their friend requests. The only children I accept are family. I have had some scouts ask me why I don’t accept their requests and I simply tell them that it’s a rule I set for myself.

    I agree with Rebecca’s comment above. We need to filter ourselves. Many times I have wanted to post a snarky remark to someone but then I think that my kids, nephews and nieces can see it so I won’t post it.

  9. I’ll friend anyone I know. If they cuss, I tell them not to in a comment. Oddly, some youth find it shocking that I would not want any obscenity on my wall. I point out that if they catch me using foul language, they are more than welcome to call me on it.

    Obviously, some youth are my friends, others are not. Every now and then I have the situation where a “freind of a friend” posts something they shouldn’t. In this case, I will try and let that youth’s parents know that they should check their child’s account.

    On the whole, I think this has made us all better people.

  10. I put on a Social Media Class at our University of Scouting for three years. I went through this each year. Which included the BSA’s Social Media guidelines.

    Also, if you need two seperate accounts, one for your real life and one for Scouting…your not living the Scout Oath and Law. Just because you take the Tan Shirt off, does not mean your not a Scout or Scouter when it’s off. You are or you are not. Make up your mind.

    • Among the reasons this blog says we should think hard about friending Scouts and other Scouters (thus perhaps leading to creating 2 accounts) are our political thoughts, religious thoughts, and perfectly legal preference of microbrewery. None of those things runs counter to the Oath and Law and such over-the-top rhetoric doesn’t get us anywhere.

  11. I am involved with both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and it is interesting to see the differing approaches taken by the two organizations. It is also pretty clear to me that (as a broad generalization) male and female youth seem to use social media in different ways.

    The Girl Scout program I work with, roughly equivalent to a Sea Scout Ship, is a vigorous user of Facebook. As requested by the Girl Scout Council, the group’s page is closed and by invitation only. Nearly all the girls are members and perhaps 40% of the parents. For them, the Facebook page is an essential part of the community. There is a lively conversation and plenty of photo sharing from our events. The conversation and photos originate from both youth and adults (both parents and those with formal leadership positions)

    Having been involved as an adult leader in this Girl Scout program for a long time, it is clear to me that many middle school & high school girls use facebook and other social media regularly and as very important communication tool. Social media plays an important role for them in their web of relationships. My sense is that boys typically don’t use social media in the same ways.

    A facebook group is perhaps the electronic equivalent of a troop meeting. The youth have a relatively free hand to do their own thing, but with plenty of adults watching quietly from the back of the room. The adults join in the conversation on a regular basis, so that the youth are very aware we are there. I can’t remember any inappropriate postings or photos to the Girl Scout facebook group. The girls may do dumb things online, just not on the group’s Facebook page.

    The Facebook group lets the youth leaders and adult leaders swiftly and effectively communicate with the group. Email still gets used, but Facebook messages and posts to the facebook group reach our group swiftly and effectively.

    For my Boy Scout Troop, Facebook plays a minor role, almost irrelevant. The Troop Facebook page is open to the world. Postings to the group are sporadic and come only from one of the adults, or rarely from a youth leader. It is not a primary communications tool, and there is no interaction back and forth by the Scouts. Despite regular efforts to promote the Troop facebook pages, the Scouts don’t join the group so that there are essentially no Scout originated postings and very few Scout originated photos. This is not for want of promotion. The boys just don’t join.

    You have to remember that as Scout leaders, we have to reach the kids where they are. My experience is that there is an enormous generational divide when it comes to email. Adults use email. Many youth don’t seem to check their email accounts regularly. (Another generational issue – many youth never listen to voicemail messages on their cellphones either.) For the Girl Scout program, adult leaders can swiftly and reliably reach the group via Facebook group postings. When individual communication is needed – a text or facebook message is the right tool for the job. An email might not be seen for a week or two (or longer).

    Two deep is of course just as necessary online as in real life. Just as you would not meet alone with a kid in person, you must have another adult in on the electronic communication with a youth.

    I agree with those concerned about remembering that what you say online can be seen by others. When you are a Scout leader, it is particularly important to keep that in mind.

  12. My approach is different. I do not engage in social media with any youth, unless it is on my Troop email account. I do not and will not hide who I am as an adult, but I make sure that the youth know my opinions are just that, and they are free to find their own. We will not properly prepare them if we hide the world they will be entering.

  13. “Also, if you need two separate accounts, one for your real life and one for Scouting…your not living the Scout Oath and Law.”


    “Wait… what’s wrong with Scouts reading tweets in favor of a politician (as long as the adult writing them is appropriate, respectful and behaving in a Scout-like way)?”

    There’s more to it than either point. As adults, we can carry on conversations that are fully in keeping with the scout law and oath that are simply not appropriate for youth. Most scouts do not yet have their own political thoughts and values, their own religious thoughts and values. They echo their parents. This is especially true the younger they are. If our political views and religious faith differ from our scouts’ parents (and our older scouts), our discussions of those topics can cause issues, especially in this day and age when it has all become blood sport and political labels have become curse words. ASM Smith’s a LIBRAL! He’s one of them! ASM Jones is a CONSERVATIVE! He’s one of them! And it’s a distraction from the program.

    A great example with direct BSA ties is homosexual rights. There are strong feelings on both sides and different faiths have different interpretations of the issues. Some churches’ doctrine supported the BSA ban, some churches’ doctrine supported inclusion while the non-church charter organizations had their own issues with the policy. Chances are in most of our troops we have families and leaders on both sides of the issue no matter how conservative or liberal a region you operate in. Discussions around the proposed changes often became heated. I don’t know about your units but I know every discussion we had about the topic last year were done in adult only meetings and not in front of the scouts. The reason was it was not part of the scouting program. The scouts did not need to know adults feelings on the topic other than their own parents if even there. They didn’t need to worry about if the charter organization was likely to drop the charter or not. That isn’t part of the scouting program. As adults we have to be able to discuss these things away from the scouts. For some of us that includes discussions on social media.

    As adults, we have a hard enough time carrying on discussions of politics and religion on social media without somebody turning it into a shouting match. Every one of us has friends outside scouting that may well do that. At least for me, I see no need to cause issues in the scout troop or the church youth group or my kids’ friends from school by exposing them to adult discussions they don’t need to be involved in.

    There’s a difference between saying I support X for Congress and discussing why you support him and not the other guy. There’s a difference between saying I’m a Methodist and discussing difference in theology between my denomination and another and arguing over infant or adult baptism or musical instruments in worship or not or ordained women or not or…. There’s a point when the discussions simply get to a place where the scouts simply are not experienced enough or equipped to see it and equipping them on many of these topics is best left to the parents.

    I for one choose to hold adult conversations on social media without worrying about how other people’s kids are going to see things.

  14. Emphasis on “collision.”
    I set up our alumni Facebook page as a fan page at first, doing so without realizing that BSA says that’s what we have to do to begin with. Our former members leaders are 18-80 years old. I began adding photos, and within about 5 minutes I was hit with a flood of notifications of comments by college- and high school aged kids on the photos, generally amounting to gay slurs with plenty of f-bomb flair. The fan page came down. Now we have a private group.

  15. Whoever said the comment, “we don’t need separate accounts if we are living the Scout Oath and Law” is right on. We should all ask ourselves, is this helpful, friendly, clean….before we post anything.

    I think it’s important for our scouts to see us living those out in our real lives and US encouraging them to live them too, I don’t think there should be separation. And if we fail, which we will because we are human, and post or comment in an unscoutly manner, it’s important for us to recognize that and make it right and for our scouts to see that.

  16. I’m a 20-year-old Assistant Scoutmaster. On Facebook, most of my friends are from Boy Scouts, Venturing, Order of the Arrow, NYLT, and so forth. About 1/3 are from college, and only a handful are through mutual contacts (“Hey, I know you worked at Scout Camp X and my friend wants to know what you thought; can I hook you guys up?” “Yeah, sure.”)

    I am friends with both youth and adults. I don’t post inappropriate things on any of my social media because I also use it to network with people and employers. I tell people that if they need to send me a file, they can use my email. Otherwise, I prefer to be called on my phone.

    Now, I will not add youth unless we’re close friends, and I too am a youth in that division. I belong in groups for NYLT, OA, Venturing, and so forth. If they add me, I accept. But, I don’t make the first move.

  17. Multiple accounts, one for Scout appropriate behavior, another for social behavior?
    What are you teaching your Scouts?
    Read the free book: “The Scout Law in Practice” by Arthur Astor Carey, 1915.

  18. The interpretation of how “no one-on-one” should work with electronic messaging is just stupid.

    “As it relates to social media, two-deep leadership means there should be no private messages and no one-on-one direct contact through email, Facebook messages, Twitter direct messaging, chats, instant messaging (Google Messenger, AIM, etc.), or other similar messaging features provided through social media sites.”

    Thank heavens the people who are banning instant messaging weren’t asked about making BSA policy for those new-fangled telephone things! “If the Senior Patrol Leader needs to call the Scoutmaster, he should make sure his parent or guardian is available to pick up an extension phone and monitor the call.”

    • Right. And unlike a telephone conversation, there are copies of every IM/email/PM in the youth’s hands, the service’s servers, and the adult’s hands. Our troop already gets complaints about the volume of emails sent without CCing parents on every email sent to a particular youth.

  19. I weep for Scouting having read this blog and responses. Perhaps we will survive this generation of “leaders” and fare better with the next. Boys must be allowed to learn by experience, not isolated until they reach the age of majority. If you cannot model the responsible citizen in all it’s aspects then you truly do not understand your role as Scouters.

  20. I’m in the interesting position of being in charge of the Council’s Activities Committee. For official notifications and drivel, we have a public Facebook page. Several Scouters have also friended me so they can directly ask me questions about activities related stuff….or because they feel that we’re honestly friends.

    I’m fairly conservative in my views, but i’m also technically literate. Facebook has a post security option (who can see this?). I use this to control the scope of what people can see. I’ve got my contacts lumped into groups (BSA, Church, Friends, etc) beyond the default Facebook groups.

    I also don’t friend Scouts under the age of 18. If they want to know Activities trivia, they can like the official page.

  21. Learn how to use Facbook properly. There are tools that allow your posts to be viewed or not viewed by certain people when necessary. Also, I don’t see how not friending certain people is such a bad thing, do we need to treat others with kid gloves? Just let them know your personal policy and things should be fine.

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