Social Media Guidelines
Many people use social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with family and friends.
The networks are increasingly being used by our diocese and at parish and benefice level in order to share information among clergy, staff, volunteers, worshippers and potential churchgoers.
They are a growing part of people’s lives and to stay relevant we need to be part of them. Online communities are very much where we need to be, joining them, starting our own and sharing them with others.
Social media offer us an unprecedented way of directly communicating our message with people – those we know, those who want to know us, and those we hope to know.
It is immediate, sometimes addictive and often good fun, but with this unprecedented access, we should consider use carefully.
We should always get explicit and informed consent from the parents, carers or those with parental responsibility before publishing or sharing any photographs online of identifiable children.
These are good practice guidelines to help us all engage with others and to share our faith but also steps to protect our reputations both personally and as a diocese.
Pause for thought
Just like when you communicate at any other time social media also needs common sense and a consideration of Christian values. It is great to be able to add comments quickly, correct information or share photographs with friends or a wider online community but do think about whether you are happy for all those who know you or who do not know you to see them.
It is never acceptable to post offensive comments or to use language which others may find distressing or to share material of this nature.
Check the source of material you choose to share or retweet as identities of organisations can be difficult to keep track of online. While the Church should ask questions of those in authority be mindful that campaigning should be respectful of those with differing opinions.
By law, if one or more people can access content then it is classed as published, in the public domain and subject to legislation around libel, defamation, copyright and data protection.
If you would not say something in a public meeting or to someone face to face or write it in a newspaper or on headed paper – do not say it online.
Who might be watching?
Be mindful that even if you are tweeting or facebooking in a personal capacity that there is no such thing.
You are always the vicar or churchwarden or diocesan staff member – especially to journalists who love nothing more than checking up on us on social media in the hope they might come across a story/juicy tale.
Take care with your choice of profile image, or even when joining a group or liking a page – think about what these choices when viewed by others say about you.
Who are you?
It is advisable to maintain separate personal and public accounts.
Think carefully about privacy settings and use them well.
If you run a parish or other group page or account you should always make it clear who is updating it and have a policy for removal of unsuitable material/members.
Online aliases are never good as the whole point of social networking is to connect with people so using another online identity is incompatible as well as disingenuous.
The nature of ministry often means that boundaries are blurred between the professional and personal and it is no different online but there are risks with opinions, photographs or comments of a personal nature being viewed as ministry.
It is not a good idea to send a private message to anyone, which you would not be happy being in the public domain.
It is never a good idea to accept friend requests on your personal accounts from children or to accept requests to follow children or young people.
By accepting such a request, you could be making yourself vulnerable by sharing personal information or by having access to personal information about a child.
You may be potentially leaving yourself open to allegations of inappropriate conduct or even find yourself exposed to unwanted contact.
It is important when using social networks that you are in control of who can see your account details and content including photos and albums, posts, status updates and any personal information.
On Twitter, you can set your account to private by selecting 'Protect my tweets' so you can then accept (or decline) requests to follow you.
In the case of Facebook, choosing a basic 'Friends' setting for every option would initially achieve this. However, you are able to customise each option further, and can limit the information that certain individuals see.
It is a good idea to use the ‘view as’ option, to check and see how your profile appears to strangers, and that the information you want to remain private or 'friends only' is not visible.
If you are unsure about how to use the settings available, treat all information that you post as being public and act accordingly.
Think carefully about whom you are friends with, and which friends can access what information. It is a good idea to remove any friends or customise the privacy settings for current friends, if access to your personal activity could compromise your position.
However, whatever setting you use, it is important always to think before you post because 'friends' settings do not guarantee privacy.
Sharing content with others could mean that you lose control of it, if friends pass on your information, for example. How well do you know all of your friends listed on Facebook?
Other tools are also available, for example, utilising privacy settings and removing your social network profile page from search engine results.
Where are you?
When using location services on social networks think about making your location visible only to your friends and ensure that you are happy with the friends on your list.
Is it appropriate to share all of your locations? Is it a sensitive matter that you are dealing with and could sharing your location compromise a confidence?
The option for being ‘checked into’ a place by someone else can be disabled in your privacy settings so that you can keep control of your location information.
Managing your reputation online is essential to your ordained ministry/staff/volunteer position and to the Diocese/Church of England.
Always think carefully before making any posts, status updates or having discussions involving a parish or benefice, its staff, its worshippers or the Diocese/wider Church of England in an online environment, even if your account is private.
Comments made public could be taken out of context and could be very damaging. Think about the language you use, abrupt or inappropriate comments even if made in jest, may lead to complaints.
Posting derogatory comments about parishes/benefices, clergy, staff/volunteers or the diocese/wider Church of England is never acceptable.
Clergy, staff and others in positions of responsibility, such as PCC members and churchwardens are required to uphold the reputation of the parish/benefice/diocese/Church of England, to maintain reasonable standards of behaviour and to uphold public trust in them.
Do not overshare personal information. Never publish detailed personal information such as your address, if it is not in the public domain or telephone number, unless in a private message to someone you know and trust.
Ensure you always use a strong password, which is not shared with others, and ensure you always log out of apps/devices after use. Not logging out could mean the next user of a computer/device could potentially access your account. With this in mind, do not select ‘remember this password’ for shared devices or those accessed by someone else.
If you use a device such as a smart phone or tablet to access social networking consider setting a PIN or passcode and think about not allowing notifications to automatically flash up on your screen if it is likely to be viewable by others – such as on a desk during meetings.
Use of social media does not change the Church’s understanding of confidentiality.
Breaking confidentiality is as wrong as it would be in any other context. Arguably, it is worse as via social media a broken confidence could spread rapidly and be impossible to retract.
Remember: Is this story mine to share? If in doubt, do not.
If you have any questions or issues with using social media, feel free to get in touch with the Diocesan Communications Director.
With thanks to the Diocese of Worcester, Diocese of Bath and Wells and Childnet International, whose work in this area was invaluable research for these guidelines.