Using social media

  • One way of finding and sharing information and communicating with friends online is through social media
  • You should be protected from seeing and hearing things that could be harmful to you on social media
  • If someone treats you badly through social media, they could be breaking the law

You have the right to information and to share your views and opinions, so this includes what you post on social media. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that the government should protect children from seeing things that will harm them. Although there are some specific laws about some types of content, and some types of online behaviour, there are no general laws protecting you when you’re online, including when you use social media.

Social media isn’t really set up so that you can be protected from seeing things that might upset you or be harmful to you. Content on social media isn’t ‘age restricted’, although social media platforms have a ‘lower age limit’ to have an account. Even though content isn’t age restricted, some content is blocked, and people who post inappropriate things on social media or people who use social media to target a child, could end up being in trouble with the police.

Just as you should be protected when you use social media, you have to be aware of other people’s rights and the laws that protect them. If you don’t you can end up in trouble with the police yourself either because you posted something you shouldn’t have done, or because you used social media to target someone.

How old do I have to be to use social media?

Each social media platform has its own rule about how old you should be to have an account. For Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and WhatsApp the minimum age is 13.

What will happen if I open a social media account when I am not old enough?

You will have to check the rules for each social media platform. Most of the platforms say that they can delete your account at any time and for any reason, so they might do this if they find out that you are too young to have an account.

What are the rules about using social media?

Each social media platform has a set of rules that applies to that platform. These rules include things like how old you have to be to have an account, what sort of things are not OK to post, and what the platform can do with the photos and information you add to it.

Here are the links to the rules for some of the most popular platforms:

Snapchat

Instagram

Facebook

WhatsApp

YouTube

The Children’s Commissioner for England has written some helpful guides to these rules, which you can see here.

What are my rights on social media?

Your rights under the UNCRC are around what the Welsh government and UK government should do to make sure you are protected from seeing and hearing videos or photos or other stuff like memes or gifs that are going to harm you. You should also be protected from the behaviour of other people, adults and other children, who might want to use social media and the internet to harm you directly.

What rules protect me when I’m using social media?

The way the law works in Wales and in the UK means that people may be breaking the law and could get into trouble with the police if the way they behave on social media could harm you. This includes if they post something that is generally upsetting even if it isn’t aimed at anyone in particular, as well as behaviour that might be targeted directly at you.

Each social media platform has its rules about what you can expect if you use the platform. Your rights as a child mean that you should be protected from seeing things that are likely to upset you and cause you harm. This could include scary or violent images or videos, or images of people.

Once you are on a social media platform, there is no ‘age restriction’ to what you can see. People are allowed to post what they want – and if it is offensive or upsetting, you have to report it to the platform which will then decide whether to take it down or not. It might get reported to the police, or you can report it. The police have to decide whether to track down who posted it. There can be difficulties if someone has posted something when they are in a different country to you.

Can I stop seeing posts by someone?

Each social media platform is different but each one has rules and functions so that you can stop seeing posts by people if they are upsetting you. You can also stop people seeing you and your posts, and you can stop them tagging you in posts.

Can I stop people finding out my personal information through social media?

Each social media platform has different rules about how you can use it but most have ‘privacy’ settings which allow you to control what people can find out about you. You will need to check what these are for each social media platform you use and decide whether you feel that the privacy options they offer will stop people finding out information about you.

Can social media platforms use photos and content that I created?

You may think that the stuff you post online is yours – but it might not be. Even if it is yours, the social media platform you use may say that it can use your content for its own purposes, even if you have taken the post down. It will depend what is included in the terms and conditions when you sign up.

Can I get into trouble because of the way I use social media?

Yes you can. Even if the way you use social media isn’t breaking the law, you may get into trouble with your parents or at school for bullying or behaving inappropriately. The social media platform that you’re using might stop your account. If you are breaking the law, you could also get into trouble with the police.

What sort of things could get me into trouble if I post them on social media?

You’re allowed to have your own opinion about things and you should be able to express that freely on social media platforms. You’re also free to disagree with people. What you must not do is post stuff or behave in a way that could seriously upset someone or that breaks the law. The sort of things that you shouldn’t do on social media include:

  • Posting something that someone else created without their permission, or pretending that it’s something you created;
  • Posting personal information about other people – this is sometimes called ‘doxxing’
  • Posting an image of someone that you’ve changed to suggest something about them that isn’t true
  • Exchanging images of yourself naked or without many clothes on with someone else – sometimes called ‘sexting’
  • Bullying someone in anyway, including leaving nasty comments and sending bullying direct messages
  • Being hostile or aggressive based on someone’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

If you post something on social media that shows you broke the law somewhere else, you could end up in trouble for what you did, even if posting it on social media doesn’t break the law. If you post a photo or a video that shows you or someone else hurting another person, the police might use that as evidence.

What might happen to me if I post the wrong sort of thing on social media?

Posting something that’s going to be upsetting to lots of people, or something that targets one individual person can end up with you getting into trouble with the police. You may also have your account shut down by the social media platform where you posted.

If you get into trouble with the police, your rights are there to protect you and make sure you are treated properly – but they won’t stop you from being punished. You can find out more about what happens and how your rights protect you if you get into trouble with the police, here.