Can BSA youth members discuss Scouting in private digital groups?

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A Venturing crew Advisor was doing her job – working with the crew’s youth leaders to help ensure the success, safety and personal growth for all members — when she heard the Venturers mention something that caught her ear.

It seems they had recently taken to a popular online gaming communication platform to form a private group devoted to the discussion of Venturing activities. There were no adults involved in these online conversations.

It’s an innocent enough idea. Digital platforms like these are designed to make it easy for its users to communicate via voice calls, video calls, text messaging and file sharing in private group chats.

But what makes it so easy is also what makes it so problematic. Platforms like this one do not have the same goals as business-oriented conference platforms that include good safety and privacy features.

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Good news, bad news

Online communication platforms have been around for decades. Some have risen to prominence in Scouting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without question, they are here to stay.

Here are a few things to look for when allowing youth to conduct Scouting business in these virtual environments.

  1. Whether you’re meeting in person or online, all youth protection policies still apply. The Venturing advisor was right to be concerned: Any time and space (virtual or otherwise) that’s devoted to talking about Scouting is an official Scouting activity and therefore requires two-deep leadership. Why can’t youth meet on their own for a discussion about their next Scout outing, either virtually or in person? Because all aspects of the Scouting program should be open to observation by leaders and parents. (The BSA suggests parents take part in online activities and meetings, too.)

    Photo Getty Images/Istockphoto
  2. The ban on one-on-one contact applies no matter when, why, where or how any Scout meeting or outing is conducted. One-on-one contact between an adult leader and youth is not allowed in person, online, through a web conference, over the phone, via text or in any other form.
  3. When choosing an online platform for official meetings, the BSA recommends that you use business-oriented conference platforms that include good safety and privacy features, instead of platforms with other primary purposes (such as gaming). One valuable feature to look for is the ability to disable private chats during meetings (Zoom and Microsoft Teams, for example, both offer this feature). Be sure and review the terms of service, safety and privacy features, and data collection policies of any platform you use. When in doubt, ask yourself if you can monitor any and all discussions on your chosen platform. Scroll down to the Digital Privacy section of this page for more information.
  4. Regularly review and implement the latest security features of your chosen platform to avoid unauthorized visitors or other security issues in your meetings. Continue to monitor and disable features you won’t need, such as screen-sharing and private chats.
  5. Make sure everyone in your unit knows the rules. Most virtual Scouting chats don’t start off with ill intentions. It’s a simple enough mistake to think “hey, we’re talking about all this stuff anyway; why not take the discussion online?” But the fact of the matter is, the same technology that allows us to communicate with each other so effortlessly can easily lead to a violation of BSA YPT policies.

To learn more about online safety, check out Scouting’s Barriers to Abuse, the BSA’s social media guidelines, and the American Camp Association’s best practices for keeping online programming safe.

About Aaron Derr 421 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.