Is This Legal?

Adventures in Social Media #2

Is this legal? This is the second in a series of posts on lessons learned by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science on use of social media in its Teen Science Cafe program.

Next Steps: Is This Legal?

Having determined that Facebook is the overwhelming favorite among our teen leaders in the use of social media, our next step was to wade gingerly into the murky waters of legality and state government policy.  Because we are a state Museum, we need to adhere to the state government’s policies regarding social media usage. Whether you’re state-funded or privately run, however, you’ll want to take the time to explore your institution’s policies and talk with your external affairs folks. We’ve all heard horror stories about companies and organizations that goofed on social media and got in lots of hot water.  Make sure this doesn’t happen to you!
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We met with our Head of External Affairs, our Head of Science Communication, and our Chief Webmaster.  We also read through North Carolina’s policy on government employees using social media.  The upshot of all of this research was simple: if the teens are the ones creating the Facebook page and posting on it, it cannot be seen as an official part of the Museum’s web presence. That means no Museum logo, clear and explicit language saying that this is a “fan page” for the Museum’s cafes, and no posting from actual Museum employees.  We had to make the teens’ Facebook page totally separate from any Museum efforts to promote the cafés.

We were lucky enough to have a colleague who had previously worked for the county government and had managed volunteers who created a Facebook page to support the county’s animal shelter. Our colleague was familiar with our situation and was able to provide good working guidelines:

  • The Facebook page does not use the Museum’s name or logo
  • The Facebook page has a disclaimer saying that it is run by the teens, not Museum employees
  • All posts on the Facebook page are made by teens, not Museum employees
  • Museum employees who wish to interact with the Facebook page must do so using their personal Facebook account, not an account tied to their work email address

The final step in thinking through legality and policy was considering that our teens are minors, and we are responsible for their safety.  We contacted the parents of our teens on the Social Media Committee and asked for their permission for their children to use Facebook in order to create a personal page and post on the Teen Science Café page. We made it clear that while we would provide guidelines on safety and appropriateness for the teens, there are inherent risks to using social media and that we couldn’t eliminate all risks.  All of our parents were happy to give their permission, but it’s still important to ask.

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