State government Facebook page Teach Queensland struck controversy recently, not only for posting a racially offensive advertisement online, but for using an image of a student without parental permission.

Facebook loads 100 million hours of video each day and currently stores 250 billion photos from this year alone. What was once private is now public.

Parents and schools must consider the impact of social media on student privacy and of publishing student life.

Schools hold a unique position of responsibility when it comes to the privacy of their students and their education, and promoting societal standards.

Social media use by schools is everywhere. It presents new opportunities for community engagement, but risks making student identification far easier. Schools must continually update their approach as technology changes.

Permission to publish online a child in a photo or video varies between schools depending on whether they are government or non-government. Policies set the boundaries either as within a system of schools (government) or by individual schools (non-government).

Upon enrolling, schools must seek parental permission in writing to publish a child’s identity across all of its communication media.

This should include apps, newsletters, newspapers and magazines, promotional material, websites, radio, television and social media. As well, schools should review cultural and legal requirements about permissions to publish upon entry.

As parents, our decision-making process was straight-forward before the arrival of social media where life was private by default and only public with effort. Today it is the reverse; public by default and only private with effort.

So how do schools and parents avoid mistakes with social media and publishing our children’s school lives online?

Parents should expect schools to be open and transparent about the use of photos and videos on their official social media sites. They should also expect a school to clearly state how they protect the privacy of their children online.

Special consideration should also include the custody and well-being of a child if online publishing might place a child at risk of harm.

Parents should review the permission to publish information set out by the school with care.

Consent to publish should be in writing. It should clearly state the official channels of communication where publishing will occur, define the use of a child’s name online and provide parents with a yes or no option for permission to publish.

Information about the storage and access of your permission to publish and who can access it should be clear. Parents should clarify the settings on the school’s social media channels in relation to tagging, facial recognition and geolocation software.

Many schools complete such information using an online form and check boxes. Clear each check box, review the permissions and then complete the online form.

Whether it is online or in hard copy, this process should align with the school’s policies and procedures including social media and the storage of personal information.

Why is this important for a parent to consider?

When any of us post photos and videos online we are creating a digital identity which is sharable and searchable. Tagging (assigning a piece of content to a person), facial recognition software (which identifies or verifies a person from a digital image) and geolocation software (which identifies the geographical location of a person) are all commonplace in social media apps and assist in sharing and searching personal information.

All of these features impact on an individual’s privacy. Parents must consider what they wish to keep private and what they wish to be public.

Considering the privacy of our children is now complex but we should not be fearful and shy away.

Using social media in schools has enormous potential for parents and can make a positive impact on the whole community including our children. It can be a starting point for a face-to-face conversation, overcome distance and isolation, support the delivery of learning, celebrate the little wins of students and teachers, build pride and identity through achievements.

We cannot promote advocacy of social media in the hearts and minds of parents unless we get the fundamentals right to minimise our risk. Robust policy and careful scrutiny of procedures are critical.