An MP leading the inquiry into the News of the World phone hacking scandal has been exposed as being Facebook friends with Les Hinton and Elisabeth Murdoch, highlighting the perils of carelessly adding everyone you meet as a connection on the social network.

According to The Independent on Sunday, John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport committee, is listed as one of Hinton’s 93 ‘friends’ on Facebook. He also appears on Rupert Murdoch’s daughter’s Facebook list as one of her 386 friends, and has admitted to going out for dinner with former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks.

Hinton, a close business associate of Rupert Murdoch and head of News International during the phone hacking, resigned as CEO of Dow Jones in New York last Friday. Meanwhile, Brooks has been released on bail after being arrested at the weekend in connection with the phone hacking allegations.

Whittingdale told The Independent on Sunday: “These are people who I’ve met. I’ve only met Elisabeth Murdoch a couple of times. Les, I’ve known for about 10 years, and I’ve been for dinner once or twice with Rebekah.

“I wouldn’t say they are close friends but you can’t do the job I’ve done for six years without having them as acquaintances. It doesn’t suggest close intimacy.”

Whittingdale was also understood to have been invited to Hinton’s wedding reception in 2009, but did not attend due to the ongoing phone-hacking investigation.

However, Whittingdale has continued to downplay his Facebook connections.

“I have 570 friends on Facebook. Whether or not Rebekah Brooks is still one of them, I rather doubt it, since I have summoned her to appear before me,” he said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“I’ve met almost every major figure in the media. I’ve met [The Independent’s owner] Alexander Lebedev. He’s not a Facebook friend, but that’s probably because he’s not on Facebook.”

Despite this, Whittingdale’s situation highlights the need for social network users to be more careful about how they interact on sites such as Facebook.

In June, Joanne Fraill, a juror who contacted a defendant on Facebook, was jailed for eight months, with the punishment acting as a deterrent to future jurors from conducting online research or using social media to contact defendants in trials.