We are living in a digital age, which means that many people are using at least one social media platform. And while this comes with a number of benefits, such as the ability to keep in touch with friends and family, social media can also come with risks.
Social Media Guidelines
Social media can be considered to be in a separate category to other forms of communication. It’s immediate, conversational, interactive and often open-ended. Social media can provide many opportunities, but users should also be aware of the associated risks.
These guidelines have been created, in line with Church of England national guidance on social media, in order to help clergy and other diocesan staff to navigate the world of social media, and will hopefully assist them in fulfilling their roles as online ambassadors.
It’s worth noting that, for the most part, the guidelines are based on common sense and good judgement. Essentially, you should behave in a similar way online to how you would in any other public setting, and remember that you’re ultimately responsible for the things you do, say or write. Ensure that what you’re saying aligns with your Christian values, and you should have no issues navigating social media!
1. Consider Before Posting
Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind with social media is that, while you have the ability to respond to things immediately, you don’t have to do so. Take the time to consider your response, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this my story to share?
- Would I want God to read my post?
- Would I want a parent to read my post?
- How would I feel if my response went viral?
It can also be helpful to listen to others before posting yourself, getting a feel for the tone of the online forum, and thinking about how you can bring value through participation.
2. Remember It’s Permanent
We often think of social media posts as transient, as they become dated quickly. But they can have a lasting impact, and you should assume that anything you post online is there to stay.
Even if you go back and delete old posts, they may have already been republished elsewhere, or referred to on another website.
3. Remember You’re an Ambassador
Whether or not you’re ordained, if you lead in, or are employed by, the Church, that makes you a representative of the Church.
What this means is that others will often assume your views are those of the Church, so you must ensure that these views are aligned. If discussing a church matter online, you may wish to refer to the Social Media Policy below.
4. Separate Public and Private Life
It can often be difficult to separate your private life from your public duties, especially in ministry. This is also true online – personal opinions are often seen as public statements and vice versa.
Some people get around this by setting up separate accounts for ministry and personal use. Others choose to use the privacy settings on social media platforms, so that the content they post is filtered, with only friends seeing personal posts.
5. Always Remain Visible
There are ways in which people can remain ‘anonymous’ online, such as hiding behind an alias. However, this tends to go against the spirit of social media – people aren’t able to connect with an alias.
Of course, this can be tricky when you have pages representing a church or parish. In these instances, it can be a good idea to let people know who is responsible for the content.
In terms of visibility, it’s also important to remember that anything in the public domain, which includes social media, is subject to legislation around libel, defamation, data protection and copyright.
6. Keep Safeguarding in Mind
As social media is such an informal platform, it can be harder to maintain a professional distance. When it comes to the vulnerable, children, and young people, it’s particularly important to approach communications carefully.
Speaking with someone directly online is similar to meeting with them in private. For this reason, it can be sensible to share messages publicly, or try to send messages to groups rather than individuals. If unsure, you can reach out to the Diocesan Safeguarding Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Remember to Remain Confidential
Just as in any other context, you must not break confidentiality online. Private meetings and conversations should remain private.
Maintaining confidentiality includes your information – you also have to be mindful of your own security. You should not overshare personal information, such as your telephone number or address, unless you’re messaging someone you know and trust privately.
8. Ask for Help If Needed
If you have any questions about using social media, or simply need some support, you can get in touch with the Diocesan Communications Team at email@example.com.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media
While there are risks involved in using social media, it does also present a number of opportunities.
- You can build relationships and communities online, particularly on social media, as it feels so personal
- Social media allows individuals, churches, and parishes to share their message in powerful ways, reaching a much wider audience
- With social media, many people can participate in a conversation and provide feedback on ideas and ventures
- Social media can generate ideas and enhance learning
- Social media can be used to bully and harass others, and inappropriate relationships can be formed. Young people in particular are vulnerable to this
- As social media is both public and permanent, things you post and later regret can have an increased impact
- There is a risk of beached confidentiality online, and social media can also be used to spread gossip
- It can be easy to blur the lines between public ministry and your private life on social media
Social Media Policy
Clergy and employees of the Diocese of Winchester must always remember that they represent the Church. They should therefore always adhere to the relevant social media policies. Our policy can be found below:
- When discussing topics relevant to the Church of England or Diocese of Winchester, you must be clear about who you are and use your real name
- You must represent yourself as an employee or clergy member online when commenting on anything relating to the Church of England or Diocese of Winchester
- After identifying yourself as a member of the clergy or an employee of the Diocese of Winchester, you must remember that you’re representing the wider Christian community. Any content written by or associate with you should thus be consistent with your work and the Christian values of love, forgiveness, and tolerance
- If your parish has shared social media accounts, bear in mind that it will be the incumbent who is ultimately responsible for the views and content shared. Any posts that could be considered controversial may therefore need to be approved by the incumbent or the PCC before publishing
- You are responsible for adhering to the Diocese of Winchester’s Safeguarding Policy, which includes not publishing images of young people online. You should contact the Diocesan Safeguarding Team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions
- Bear in mind that those who fail to adhere to the Diocese of Winchester’s Social Media Policy may face disciplinary action
- Social Media Policy Statement (For PCCs and Parishes)
- The Church of England’s Social Media Guidelines
- The Church of England Digital Charter
- Government Guidance on Charities and Social Media
- UK Safer Internet Centre
- Winchester City Council Social Media Policy