Social Media guidelines

“A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!”
James 3:5 (Message)

In this digital age where communities are formed online, we need to be part of the conversation and would urge churches to look at ways to use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Social media offers a great number of opportunities for the church, but there are also risks involved.


Key content

Policy for clergy
Policy for employees
Opportunities and risks

Golden rule

If you would not say something in a public meeting or to someone’s face, or write something in a local newspaper or on headed notepaper – DO NOT put it online!

Social media in our Diocese

There are loads of people and churches already using social media across the Diocese. Check out who we’re following for some ideas!

Connect with the Diocese:

Facebook page
Twitter profile
Youtube channel
Pinterest
SoundCloud
Bishop of Gloucester on Twitter
Bishop of Tewkesbury on Twitter
Gloucester Cathedral on Facebook

Guidelines (Policies are below)

Social media is immediate, interactive, conversational and open-ended. This sets it apart from other forms of communication and demands a new way of thinking. As well as the many opportunities, users should also be aware of (though not put off by) the associated risks.

These good practice guidelines have been compiled to help clergy, office-holders and staff already active on social media (or thinking about it!) fulfil, with confidence, their role as online ambassadors for their local parish, the wider Church and our Christian faith.

All are based on principles of common sense and good judgement. Essentially, you should participate online in the same way as you would in any other public forum. Your actions should be consistent with your work and Christian values and you are responsible for the things you do, say or write.

1. 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 in the news media. Responding quickly doesn’t mean doing so without due consideration.

Before posting always think:

  • Is this my story to share?
  • Would I want my mum to read this?
  • Would I want God to read this?
  • Would I want this on the front page of a newspaper?

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.

2. Transient yet permanent

Social media updates are immediate and will outdate quickly BUT they can have a more lasting impact and you should assume that anything you post is permanent.

Even if you delete it later on, it may have been seen and re-published or referred to elsewhere.

3. You’re an ambassador

Like it or not, if you are ordained, lead in or are employed by the Church, others will see you in your public role as a representative of the Church.

If talking/commenting about a church matter, please see details below under Policy.

4. Don’t hide

Anonymity and ‘hiding’ behind aliases when using social media is frowned upon. It’s also at odds with what we consider the main reason for using social media networks. How can anyone really connect with an alias?

On any social media platform, if you choose a username or profile different to your real name, include brief personal details in the about section. 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.

5. Blurring of public/private life boundaries

In everyday ministry, the distinction between public duties and private life is difficult to draw. It is no different online. There are risks associated with personal opinions being seen as public statements, a minister’s private life being invaded and the difficulties of detaching from work.

Consider setting up separate accounts for ministry and personal use to help set definite boundaries.

Setting a friend as an acquaintance on FacebookSetting a facebook update so only close friends can see itAlternatively, use privacy settings wisely. For example, you may not want to ‘over share’ personal updates on your Facebook profile  – so keep close friends as ‘friends’, and all other people as ‘acquaintances’ (pictured left). That way content you post on Facebook can be filtered (pictured right). Blurring of boundaries also applies to private messaging through any social media: if the conversation wouldn’t be appropriate person to person, nor would it be online.

6. Safeguarding

The informality that social media encourages can mean that it might be harder to maintain a professional distance that is required when working with children, young people and the vulnerable.

Communicating directly online with someone, for example with private messaging, is like meeting them in private. You’re advised to send messages to groups, rather than individuals, or share them publicly.

If you are unsure about how to approach a communication, or are having problems with an existing online relationship, we have a Safeguarding team who are here to help.

7. 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.

8. Confidentiality

Use of social media does not change the Church’s understanding of confidentiality. Within the life of the Church there are private meetings and conversations, particularly in terms of pastoral work.

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.

9. 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.

10. Get in touch

If you have any questions or issues with using social media, feel free to get in touch with the Diocesan Communications team.

Policies

Policy for clergy of the Diocese of Gloucester

For the purpose of this Policy, “the organisation” includes the Church of England or Diocese of Gloucester.

  • If you comment on any aspect of the work of the organisation or any policy issue for the organisation, you must clearly identify yourself as a member of the clergy within the organisation in your postings or blog site(s).
  • When leaving comments on other blogs or posts, if the original subject is related to the Church of England or the Diocese of Gloucester then the person posting their comment must identify themselves and their connection with the Church of England or the Diocese.
  • It is your responsibility to be aware of and to follow the Diocese of Gloucester’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy. This includes the transmission and publication of images of young people. Please contact the Safeguarding team for advice or with any concerns.
  • You must be clear about who you are. When discussing topics relevant to the Church of England or the Diocese of Gloucester, you must use your real name. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out. Protect yourself and your privacy.
  • By virtue of identifying yourself as a member of the clergy, within a social network, you are nurturing connection with your colleagues and the global Christian community. You must ensure that content associated with you is consistent with your work and the Christian values of love, tolerance and forgiveness.
  • Those who fail to take the Diocesan Policy into account may face disciplinary measures.

Policy for employees of the Diocese of Gloucester

For the purpose of this Policy, “the organisation” includes the Church of England or Diocese of Gloucester.

  • If you comment on any aspect of the work of the organisation or any policy issue for the organisation, you must clearly identify yourself as a paid employee of the organisation in your postings or blog site(s), and respond in line with the views of the organisation. If you wish to raise concerns about the work or policies within the organisation, your line manager is the appropriate channel.
  • Should the comment be about a hobby or non-work related topic then clearly there is no potential for professional bias coming into play and hopefully no conflict of interest.
  • When leaving comments on other blogs or posts, if the original subject is related to the Church of England or the Diocese of Gloucester, then the person posting their comment must identify themselves and their connection with the Church of England or the Diocese.
  • An ‘official’ account (naming a team, project or work area) of the Diocese of Gloucester on any social media website may only be set-up with written consent from a line-manager.
  • It is your responsibility to be aware of and to follow the Diocese of Gloucester’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy. This includes the transmission and publication of images of young people. Please contact the Safeguarding team for advice or with any concerns.
  • You must be clear about who you are when discussing topics relevant to the Church of England or the Diocese of Gloucester, you must use your real name. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out. Protect yourself and your privacy.
  • By virtue of identifying yourself as an employee of the Diocese within a social network, you are nurturing connection with your colleagues and the global Christian community. You must ensure that content associated with you is consistent with your work and the Christian values of love, tolerance and forgiveness.
  • Paid employees, including members of the clergy who fail to take the Diocesan Policy into account may face disciplinary measures.

Opportunities

  • Increases communications impact, scale, efficiency and immediacy
    There is no printing or mailing. You can share your message in powerful and effective ways and others can then share it and pass it on.
  • Builds relationships and community
    Social media feels personal. It provides interactive ways of connecting to other people in a communal way, and is a great way for the Church to live out and extend its corporate life. As we express our life online, those outside the Church can observe its witness.
  • Provides opportunities for participation, collaboration, feedback
    There are great examples of how social media has been used for social change. It also provides an opportunity to get feedback.
  • Reaches and connects with new groups where they are communicating
    Social media is a space where people who the Church struggles to connect with are communicating. And we can join them in that space.
  • Enhances learning and generates ideas
    Discipleship can be fostered and nurtured.

Risks

  • Forming inappropriate relationships
    Online banter and private messaging can both lead to a level of intimacy that you would naturally guard against.
  • Saying things you should not – with increased impact
    Social media is public, permanent and has published status. There is a risk of [illegal] comments that could be seen as hate crimes, libellous, defamatory remarks etc. Remember the golden rule (in the box at the top of the page).
  • Breach of confidentiality and gossip
    As with saying things you should not, electronic and online communication can be used to breach confidentiality and spread gossip.
  • Blurring of public ministry/private life boundaries
    The distinction between public ministry and private life is difficult to draw. This is no different online. There are risks associated with personal opinions being seen as public statements, a minister’s private life being invaded and the difficulties of detaching from their work.It is advised that ministers draw clear boundaries around their social media usage associated with their private life and use different social media for their public ministry (more details on this above).
  • Bullying, harassment and malicious accusations
    Social media can be used to bully and harass others and is a forum for malicious accusations. Young people are particularly vulnerable to this.
  • Grooming and impersonation
    There are clear dangers, particularly for children and young people, from those who use social media as a means of grooming.

With thanks

These Social Media guidelines and Policies have been formulated thanks to content drawn up by the Dioceses of Worcester, Bath and Wells, Bristol, and Guildford. Thanks guys!

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