Who is covered by this policy?
From 1st March 2014, employees of the Lichfield Diocese Board of Finance (LDBF), clergy and church workers are subject to this Social Media Policy. It was updated in November 2018.
The Social Media Policy is designed to ensure that we communicate within the law and in a way consistent with our Christian character.
What is social media?
Social Media, in this policy, refers to all online communication in a public space, from blogging to Twitter and Facebook. Engagement through a computer or smartphone screen should not change our understanding of confidentiality, responsibility, good manners and Christian witness.
- Public Domain
The law views anything shared online as being in the public domain. Sharing thoughts and reflections with friends using social media or email might feel personal and private; but if more than one person can access what we have written, it is highly likely that the law would class it as "published". It is subject to the law touching libel, copyright, freedom of information and data protection. If we wouldn't say something in the local newspapers we shouldn't say it online.
Anything said on the Web can be assumed to be permanent. Even if we delete a comment made on a website, it could still have already been seen by other people, re-published, or had a screenshot picture taken. It is easy to say something in the heat of the moment that we regret later, but it could remain permanently online for all to see.
It is absolutely not safe to assume anything electronic is secure. Privacy settings on social media tools might mean comments going only to accepted "friends" or "followers" but there is no guarantee that they will not pass (repost) them outside trusted circles.
Social media can pose a risk to confidentiality and be intrusive. Social media does not change our fundamental understanding about confidentiality in the life of the Church. When telling a story about a situation which involves someone else, it is always useful to pose the question "Is this MY story to tell?"
Furthermore, we should ask if the story is likely to cause distress, inconvenience, upset or embarrassment to others if they discovered it had been shared in this way. If in any doubt at all, it should not be shared online.
We must take care not to share private information. Most eg clergy and Diocesan staff have publicly available contact details, but some do not.
If we are clergy, youth leaders or church employees, anything we do or say in the public domain will be interpreted by the public as representative of attitudes and behaviour in the Church. Controversial, hasty or insensitive comments can quickly attract the attention of the media. In the web environment, the person pressing the keys is ultimately responsible for their own online activities, but they can tar a lot of others with their own brush in the eyes of the media. News providers are always on the watch for gritty church-related stories via social media.
Keep a clear separation between personal and corporate accounts. If you tweet as yourself, mark the account clearly as my own views so there is no suggestion your opinions represent a wider church or organisation. If you tweet from an account representing a church or organisation, then make sure you avoid expressing personal opinions. Any account which carries the logo, address or website of a church or organisation should be seen as a corporate account and only speak for that organisation.
Take care with external links. When you link to material, check out the website you are linking to is its overall focus one you are happy to publicise and promote?
- Real-time Relationships
Interactions in the virtual world need to be transparent. Healthy boundaries and practices must be adhered to just as they should be in the physical world. In the virtual world, friend or follower can mean anyone with whom you are willing to communicate through that medium. In the physical world, friend can mean much more in terms of intimacy, self-disclosure, mutuality and expectations for relationship.
Clergy have a right to free speech, restrained only by the law, the doctrine of the Church of the England, and the requirement that they not be members or supporters of the BNP. Clergy frequently give views on all sorts of issues, from the pulpit, in school settings, on civic occasions, in ordinary interaction and online.
However, if badly or insensitively expressed, they could under Canon Law be construed, shown to and be disciplined for conduct unbecoming of a clerk in holy orders
The sort of distinctions that apply routinely in secular appointment between private life and work life do not operate in the same clear-cut way in relation to ordained ministry... A priest is expected by the canons to be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.
From Guidance on parochial appointmentsAppointment of clergy office holders: A guide to good practice produced in support of the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009 and approved by the House of Bishops.
More so than for laity, the difference between personal opinion and the position of the Church of England is often not clear in the mind of the public. Most clergy are conscious of this when in public local settings: but blog posts, tweets and Facebook posts are just as public. In fact, they may be the biggest pulpit you ever occupy.
Clergy have a unique power dynamic with people with whom they have a pastoral relationship, and therefore have a special responsibility to guard how they interact with those people. Some have found that while online, they have been alerted to pastoral issues and been able to offer immediate counsel in a moment of crisis.
Laws regarding mandated reporting of suspected abuse/neglect/exploitation of children, youth, elders and vulnerable adults apply in the virtual world as they do in the physical world.
Very clear boundaries must be maintained when communicating with children and young people. The law and diocesan policies on Safeguarding apply in communications with children and young people by whatever means, and Safeguarding guidelines apply fully online.
Communications should be public and in the view of whole groups, not individuals. Private messages should not be exchanged with young people via social media. The Dioceses current Safeguarding Social Media and Online activities: A Policy for the Diocese of Lichfield, its churches and Parishes. must also be followed.
Can I get help?
If you need help or further guidance, you can contact Pete Bate, Director of Communications, on firstname.lastname@example.org
Policy effective 1st March 2014.
V1.1 - 05 November 2018