Using Facebook Safely:
A Guide for Professionals
Working With Young People
Updated June 2010
Facebook and other social networking sites are a great way of keeping in touch with family and
friends, as well as making new contacts who may share the same interests as you, or be of help
in your professional development. The ‘networking’ aspect of social networking is one of the
great benefits of these sites. However, as a professional who works with young people, you
need to take extra care to ensure that you don’t inadvertently make your personal information
available to the young people or parents of young people that you work with. This could leave
you open to false allegations, misinterpretation, or the possibility of cyberbullying.
This guide will help you check that you have chosen appropriate settings on your Facebook
account. We have chosen Facebook as this website is the one we receive the most requests
about. However, remember there is likely to be many more websites you use regularly that you
should also think about to ensure that you are not revealing any unnecessary personal
information. What you need to be aware of when using Facebook
There are various scenarios that could occur if you don’t take sufficient care over the use of
your social networking profile. For example, if you don’t set appropriate privacy settings on your
profile, a lot of the information you post could be open for anyone else on Facebook to see.
Even if you are careful about setting privacy settings, young people you work with may request
to be added as a friend to your profile. If accepted, this would allow them to leave messages for
you on your profile, and to look at the information, photos, videos and see who else you have as
friends (and thus potentially have access to information on your personal friends and family).
Messages sent between professionals and young people they work with could be seen by other
young people, or family members, and be open to misinterpretation. Increasingly, professionals
are becoming the targets of cyberbullying by young people they work with, and social
networking sites are common places for this bullying to happen. Young people may use
personal information available on your profile (for instance photographs) to set up ‘fake profiles’
which are then used to harass and ridicule you.
As well as the potential for young people you work with to contact you, you also need to be
aware of accidentally bringing your workplace or your professional role into disrepute through
inadvertently posting inappropriate comments about work on your profile, for instance criticizing
policy or fellow colleagues. Unlike a quiet face-to-face chat with friends in the evening to let off
steam, comments made in the heat-of-the-moment on social networking sites could be seen by
other colleagues, young people or parents and could lead to disciplinary action being taken
against you. Remember, it’s very difficult to control exactly who will end up seeing comments
posted on social networking sites such as Facebook.
These risks are not unique to Facebook, they are common to many websites that allow you to
create content and maintain a profile about yourself. Using Facebook Safely June 2010 2
Think why you want to use Facebook. Is it a way of sharing updates and what’s going on in your
life with your family and close friends? Is it a way of making contact again with old work
colleagues, friends from school and university that you’ve lost touch with? Is it a way of finding
new people with similar interests as yours? Is it a way of establishing a network of contacts that
will help you in your work or business? Or is it a combination of these? What you want to get out
of Facebook will determine to some extent how you use the privacy settings to achieve a
balance between security and the flexibility to use Facebook in the way you want. However,
achieving the right balance can be difficult until you get used to all the settings available to you.
We therefore recommend you begin by setting tight restrictions on your profile, and as you get
used to the way Facebook works, then you can start to relax settings appropriately as you feel
It is not the intention of this guide to discuss how you should use technology in a responsible
way to communicate with young people you work with as part of, and outside of, your
professional role. However you will find links to useful resources at the end of this guide, which
we recommend you familiarize yourself with carefully. In addition you should check with your
school or other work establishment to find out what guidelines and policies are in force
regarding using technology to communicate with young people you work with. Think who you should add as friends
You’ll obviously want to add family and friends to your Facebook profile, so that you can keep in
touch and share what’s happening. However, it’s worth thinking carefully about who else you
may want to add, and also who may request to add you as a friend.
Remember that by adding someone as a friend to your profile, you are allowing them access to
the information you have on your profile. There are ways you can restrict certain parts of your
profile, e.g. messages you leave on your wall post or certain photo albums, but you are still
giving contacts you add access to a lot of personal information about yourself, that can be
copied and pasted or passed onto other people without your knowledge.
We suggest never adding any young people you come into contact with professionally, or any of
their family or friends. In addition you should refuse any requests to become a friend of young
people you work with in a professional capacity, or their family and friends as well. This will help
protect you from any misunderstanding of your actions.
Using Facebook Safely June 2010 3
YHGfL Sort your friends into lists
In your everyday life, you will clearly reveal much more of your personal information to your
close family and friends than you would to acquaintances, work colleagues or complete
strangers. You may for instance be happy giving out your mobile phone number to work
colleagues, but you will only be happy giving your home phone number to family and close
You will mentally have different groups of people that you share different information with. You
might be happy for your parents to see the photographs of you and your partner lazing on the
beach in the South of France, but you might only show your work colleagues the photographs of
the Eiffel Tower!
Facebook refers to all the people you add to your profile as ‘friends’. However, to avoid
confusion in the rest of this guide, we will refer to the people you add to your profile as
Facebook allows you to group your contacts into different groups or lists. Whilst this may seem
a tedious thing to do in the first instance, it does allow you to then control much more carefully
which groups of people see what information on your profile.
If you get into the habit of assigning your new contacts to an appropriate group you can help
control who can see what, and allows you to use your profile flexibly, by assigning different
privacy settings and controls to different groups.
You can add contacts into more than one group. For instance the same contact could be added
into a group called ‘Work colleagues’ and a group called ‘Close friends’.
You might want to start off with three groups: family, friends and work colleagues. Let’s look at
how to set these up now.
1. From your Facebook homepage select ‘Edit Friends’ from the ‘Account’ menu on the
right at the top of the screen. Using Facebook Safely June 2010 4
2. Choose Friends from the list on the left hand side of the screen and choose ‘Create new
3. Enter a name for your new list, for instance ‘Family’. We recommend starting off with
three lists, ‘Family’, ‘Friends’ and ‘Work’.
4. If you already have contacts that you would like to put into this new list, you can now
select them by clicking on them. They will highlight when selected.
Select contacts you
want to add to the list
Remember to click
Create List Using Facebook Safely June 2010 5
5. Remember to click the ‘Create list’ button to create your list with the contacts you
Repeat the process to create your other lists.
Once you have set up your lists, any new contacts that you add to your profile can be assigned
to one of the lists. Simply go to your list of contacts (choose ‘Account’ from the toolbar at the top
right then click ‘Edit friends’ and then choose ‘Friends’ from the list on the left) and from the drop
down menu next to your contact you can select a list to add them to. You can also if you wish
move them into a different list, or add them into more than one list.
Once you’ve created several lists for your contacts, you will find the lists in the menu bar on the
left hand side of the screen for easy access.
It’s also worth remembering, when you create new lists of contacts, to go back and review your
Contact Details settings and check that they are still set appropriately. For instance, if you’ve set
up a new list for Work Colleagues, you may want to go back to your Contact Details settings
and exclude contacts in your new list from seeing any contact details you are not happy with. Using Facebook Safely June 2010 6
YHGfL Look after your contact details
As a very first step in using Facebook, before you get caught up in the excitement of adding lots
of people to your profile, you should make sure you have secured your contact details.
A good rule of thumb is never to enter any of your most important personal information – for
instance home and mobile phone numbers. If you wish people to have this information there are
usually other ways outside of Facebook to share this information (for instance, giving your
mobile phone number out in person).
However, if you do enter information such as mobile phone numbers and personal e-mail
addresses, it is likely you will not want the whole world to have access to this!
Straight away, you should choose Privacy Settings from the Account menu at the top of your
This will take you to the Privacy Settings page, where you can at a glance review your settings. Using Facebook Safely June 2010 7
Choose ‘Customise Settings’ from the bottom of the screen.
Scroll down and you will see a section entitled Contact Information. Here you will see a list of
personal information that Facebook stores about you (assuming you have given this information
to Facebook in the first place). You can control who sees each of these pieces of personal
information. Each section has its own setting.
who can currently
see each type of
The different types of
that Facebook might
hold about you
You should think carefully about setting any of these to anything other than ‘Only Friends’. If you
set any of these to ‘Everyone’ then anyone who uses Facebook can see this information about
you, regardless of whether they know you or not. We recommend setting all of these to ‘Only
Be wary of choosing ‘Friends of friends’. This may potentially reveal your personal information to
young people you work with. Even if you are careful not to allow any young people you work
with access to your profile, you may have added a work colleague who is not so careful. Using Facebook Safely June 2010 8
If you’ve followed our advice and set up different lists for different groups of contacts, you can
use the ‘Customise’ option to restrict your contact details to only certain lists.
As an example, let’s say you wish to keep your ‘Mobile Number’ private from your work
colleagues. You have already created a custom list called ‘work’ with your work colleagues in
1. Choose the ‘Customise’ option from the drop-down list.
2. In the Custom privacy box that appears, you can type ‘work’ into the ‘Hide this from’ box.
3. Once you choose ‘Save settings’ any contacts in your ‘work’ list will no longer be able to
see your Mobile Number.
It’s also worth remembering that you should regularly come back to your Contact Privacy
Settings page and review who can see what. This is particularly important as you gain more and
more contacts, and begin organizing your contacts into different groups, such as family and
work colleagues. Using Facebook Safely June 2010 9
YHGfL Avoid appearing in Google and other search engines
Some of the information from your personal profile may be available to people who use search
engines such as Google or Yahoo. For companies, or those who use Facebook for promotional
purposes, it is an obvious advantage to have information appear in Google searches. For
everyone else however it is probably unnecessary. We recommend you remove your profile
from appearing in Google or other search engines.
1. Go to your Privacy settings page (from the top of the screen, choose Account > Privacy
2. From your Privacy settings page, choose Applications and websites>Edit your settings
3. Scroll down to find ‘Public search’ option, click on this. Using Facebook Safely June 2010 10