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