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Social Media Guidelines – St Mary’s, Wexham
Social media offers exciting opportunities to share the Gospel and to interact with people we might not otherwise connect with. However, social media takes us into territory where we need to think carefully. It is interactive, conversational and open-ended and happens in a public space. This sets it apart from other forms of communication and demands a new way of thinking. As well as the many opportunities, we should be aware of the associated risks.
As Christians, the same principles that guide our offline conversations should apply to those that take place online, common sense and good judgement. Interacting through social media does not change our understanding of confidentiality, responsibility and Christian witness.
Stay within The Legal Framework
Whilst sharing thoughts and reflections with friends or followers via social media can seem personal and private, it is not. By law, if one or more people can access it, content is classed as published, in the public domain and subject to legislation around libel, defamation, copyright and data protection. If you wouldn’t say something in a public meeting or to someone’s face or write it in a newspaper or on headed paper – don’t say it online.
Don’t Rush In
The immediacy of social media is one of its benefits – we can respond quickly to questions, correct misunderstandings, give our perspective about a breaking story but responding quickly doesn’t mean doing so without due consideration.
As with any other communication, think about the tone you use. Without visual cues, humour can easily be misinterpreted online. Make sure you are not attempting to pass off offensive comments through attempts at humour. Treat people with respect. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself:
This point applies even before you start posting your own content. Spend a while listening to others, getting a feel for the tone in that particular forum, giving thought to how you might participate.
Transient Yet Permanent
Social media updates are immediate and will outdate quickly BUT they can have a more lasting impact. Assume that anything you post is permanent. Even if deleted later on, it may have been seen and re-published or referred to elsewhere.
It can be easy to say something in the heat of the moment that you will come to regret, and it could remain online permanently for all to see. So always think carefully and never make personal comments about someone that you wouldn’t also say in public or to them in person.
Courtesy and Respect
Increasingly people use Twitter and other social media to comment live as events unfold. While this can enhance participation, consider whether it is courteous to those around you to be commenting on the contributions of others. Are you treating the speaker with courtesy and respect? Are you giving the meeting or event full attention?
Honesty and Transparency
Truth matters. Don’t repeat unsubstantiated claims without finding out if they are true. Make sure you’ve got the facts right; if in doubt, check. Repeating an untruth does not make it true, and you are opening yourself up to the charge of libel and/or slander if you do so.
Anonymity and ‘hiding’ behind aliases when using social media is frowned upon. It’s also at odds with the significant reason for using social media networks. How can anyone really connect with an alias? When the account is a shared one, for example, a Facebook page for your parish, ensure people can easily find out who is responsible for the content. Participation in social media should never be completely anonymous.
Be Mindful of Your Own Security
Don’t overshare personal information. Never publish detailed personal information such as your address or telephone number, unless in a private message to someone you know and trust. Assume anything you share about yourself is in the public domain.
Social media does not change our fundamental understanding of confidentiality across the whole life of the Church where there are private or closed meetings, confidential processes and conversations, particularly in terms of pastoral work. All involved have a right to expect that others will respect 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, don’t.
Blurring of Public/Private Life Boundaries
Remember that the distinction between public and private lives is increasingly blurred. It is no different online. If you are a member of the clergy or office holder, anything you do or say in the public domain will be interpreted by the public as being representative of the Church – even if you feel you are speaking in a personal capacity rather than an official one. Consider setting up different accounts for ministry and personal use to help set definite boundaries. Use privacy settings wisely.
Children and Young People/Safeguarding
Maintain clear boundaries. Remember that the law and diocesan safeguarding policy apply in your communications with children and young people – you should not exchange private messages with young people via social media and should not accept “friend requests” from young people (under the age of 18) without considered thought and consultation with a member of the Safeguarding Committee. If youth work includes an element of social media, try to keep all communications public and only send messages to whole groups, rather than to individuals.
Please be aware that sharing photographs of children and young people online can put them at risk of harm. St Mary’s policy is that written permission must be given by parents and photos would be of an activity and not full face. Please consult our Children’s Advocate.
Parental consent for using electronic forms of communication is essential and should be included on annual consent forms. You should outline what means you will be using for communication (e.g. e-mail) and what you will be communicating.
All language should be appropriate and where possible ‘standard responses’ should be used (eg if you have sent an email out containing event details and receive a reply asking for further details, create a standard response with the additional details so that all young people receive the same information).
Workers and volunteers should take great care over the language used to reduce the risk of misinterpretation. Workers should not use informal language such as shorthand or ‘text language’ as this can often be misunderstood and lead to complications.
Workers should seek to ensure that their personal profiles on any social networking sites should be set to the highest form of security to avoid young people accessing personal information or seeing any pictures of a personal nature.
ratified by St Mary’s PCC on 19th September 2017