Social Media Policy Statement
This policy and related material is intended as good practice guidance for clergy and other office holders.
All new forms of communication provide opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world. They come, however, with new values. Whereas the printed word has a certain finality of declaration about it, social media is interactive, conversational and open-ended. Moreover, it happens in a public, not private, space. Clergy and office holders are encouraged to use social tools as a means of engaging in an interactive conversation with people of all faiths and none. These guidelines aim to help us to do so.
The principles of communication are that it is:
- Credible, accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.
- Consistent, encouraging constructive criticism and deliberation.
- Cordial, honest and professional at all times, and responsive. When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
- Integrated. Wherever possible, align online participation with other communications.
- Respectful and respects confidentiality. Respect the views of others even where you disagree.
- All online communication should be a good representation of the Church in Wales. Remember that you are an ambassador for Christ, the Church and part of it. Disclose your position as a member or officer of the Church, making it clear when speaking personally.
Guidance for Clergy
You should participate online in the same way as you would with other public forums. You take responsibility for the things you do, say or write.
Never share personal details like home address and phone numbers except to someone you know and trust, and if you decide to do so then use a private message. Be aware an address can be disclosed in many ways for example via photos or a GPS position as well as in written form.
Always remember that participating in online results in your comments being permanently available and open to being republished in other media. Once something is posted to a blog or other internet site, it should be assumed to be still available even if it is later deleted from the original site.
Stay within the legal framework and be aware that safeguarding, libel, defamation, copyright and data protection laws apply, as well as the Constitution of the Church in Wales and the Professional Ministerial Guidelines for Clergy and other office holders, available online at: www.churchinwales.org.uk.
If telling a story about anyone, ask yourself is this my story to tell?
Be aware that this may attract media interest in you as an individual, so proceed with care whether you are participating in an official or a personal capacity.
Be aware that effective ministry requires a range of responses in different media and that sometimes the use of social media as a principal tool can impact adversely on good time management and therefore be detrimental to offering an effective ministry.
Introduction and Glossary of Terms
The last decade has seen a rapid growth in what is broadly known as social media. This includes personal weblogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other web-based formats. They enable ordinary people to put their own views, opinions or ideas online, or to make links through to other websites. Most of these are based on websites accessed through a computer, but increasingly some (notably Twitter) can be updated from an ordinary mobile phone. At the same time, increasingly powerful mobile phones such as the iPhone enable people to both read and write to these websites on the move or from a meeting.
Websites such as YouTube and Flickr also make it easy to share and to view videos and photos free of charge. These are also easily shared amongst social networks through Twitter, Facebook etc. and can be viewed on iPhones and other advanced mobile phones.
The social dimension is based on the premise that people will use it in part or engage with others, whether those are friends or complete strangers. This is mainly done either by responding to other people’s ideas on your own site, or by leaving a comment on other people’s sites. Most sites give people a degree of control over comments: they can allow or deny comments altogether; they can allow them to be anonymous or require a username; they can choose to allow the comments to appear immediately unedited, or to apply some control over what does or doesn’t appear.
There are tremendous opportunities presented by social media, as well as potential risks. Whilst these opportunities are to be celebrated we urge people with an interest to explore how they might use them in their lives and as part of the mission of the Church, while responsibly considering the risks.
Social media technology is changing rapidly, and so are the social attitudes that accompany it. This is especially but not only true of younger generations. As a result, any attempt to generate rules based on current technology may be quickly out of date. These guidelines rely on the use of common sense.
Church in Wales discipline relies on trust, rather than policing. These guidelines therefore as far as possible trust in people’s common sense and that they will take responsibility for their actions.
Actions that are deliberately damaging or hurtful to the Church, to an individual or group within it, or that bring the Church into disrepute are already potentially disciplinary matters, whether they are carried out online or not.
Social media does not change our understanding of confidentiality or what is or is not acceptable to say. The Church expects all involved to respect confidences when they are included in them. Similarly, something that would be unacceptable to print in a newsletter – for example – would be unacceptable to publish online.
The guidelines should not limit or prevent constructive debate or discussion through social media. People should be free to engage in discussions and debates within and beyond the Church on any topic, but should also remember their responsibilities to the Church or to any bodies they are members of when they do so. There is a wide range of opinion within the Church on some topics, and one of the attractive features about Anglicanism is our ability to disagree constructively.
There is a fine line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour online, and this line will move with time. One of the benefits of a healthy online community is that it is this community that provides the best guidance to others and to itself. The aim of the Church should therefore be to foster healthy and active online and social media engagement.
Blog or Weblog – personal website (sometime shared with friends) on which regular articles – ‘posts’ – are published and comments are invited. These posts often include links to other ‘blogs’ or social media content. Blogs are free and take minutes to set up e.g. www.blogger.com
Facebook – the most popular social networking website, with over 400 million users worldwide. Build networks of ‘friends’: share what you are up to and keep tabs on what they are doing, leave messages, arrange social events, join in groups, campaigns, etc. www.facebook.com
Flickr – Upload your photos onto the web. These can be shared with others directly by sending them a link, or via searches for content on particular themes or topics. Flickr is the largest of these photo sites, but there are others.
MySpace – free web space where people (mostly young) share music, photos etc. It includes a message board. www.myspace.com
Smart phones – A mobile phone that makes it easy to send emails, browse the internet and upload content to websites / twitter/ Facebook etc. In a couple of years it’s likely that the great majority of new phones will have these capabilities. Current brands are the iPhone, Blackberry and Android-based phones.
Trolls and flame wars – A troll is someone who picks, continues, or escalates, an argument on line simply because they like arguing. A ‘flame war’ is an argument that will never end because at least two of the parties involved will never agree, change their position, or reach a compromise. Both are to be avoided because they can absorb an incredible amount of time without reaching a conclusion or even producing anything interesting or constructive. Both can be dispiriting because they can devolve into bad language or personal attacks.
Twitter – Increasingly popular. Sign up for an account and you can upload short messages of 140 characters called ‘tweets’. People commonly ‘tweet’ regularly throughout the day, often using a mobile phone. People can ‘follow’ (view the tweets, or ‘twitter stream’) anyone they like and can respond to tweets.
YouTube – Video sharing website. Free and easy to upload video from your computer or mobile phone. Has caused controversy over copyright infringement. Lots of video is also user-generated, often from cameras on mobile phones. www.youtube.com
Guidelines on applying and understanding social media
Social media – online communities or discussion forums – offer great opportunities for the Church, both in the way we communicate with the wider world and how we discuss matters amongst ourselves.
Online media is faster, cheaper and more widely available than ‘old media’ but does not change our understanding of confidentiality, responsibility or Christian witness.
The nature of social media means that the distinction between public and private conversations can be blurred. Communication in this form also happens a lot more quickly than many other forms of communication.
Private space versus public arena
The use of social media significantly blurs the boundary between what is public and private. Especially for the younger generation this boundary may be porous or even non-existent. Conversations or complaints about work, policy decisions or anything that previously was restricted to private conversation may now be played out online, often making them permanently available for all to see (depending on the privacy levels set by the user). The safest assumption is that any use of social media is public.
This blurring is highlighted in the relationship between employer and employee, but also applies to individuals and any groups or bodies they belong to. Whilst an individual may feel that what they see or do in their own time is their own private business, social media blurs or removes this line between private and public.
This blurring of the boundary between public and private is probably a bigger concern to older generations than younger, and is not necessarily a bad thing. But when one group struggles to understand why private information is being shared online, whilst other regards it as normal, this may create tensions.
Confidentiality and consultation
Respecting confidentiality is challenging in this area. The existence of social media does not change the Church’s understanding of confidentiality. Within the life of the Church there are private conversations, confidential processes and private or closed meetings. All involved have a right to expect that others will respect confidential information they receive in any context. Breaking a confidence is as wrong when using social media as it would be by any other means.
However, people might inadvertently break a confidence. Some might report on Facebook about the facts of a confidential decision, which would clearly break our understanding of confidentiality. Alternatively they may make a comment about how they feel about the decision, which inadvertently gives away some confidential information. They might feel they have done nothing wrong, whilst others would see a breach of confidence.
‘Information wants to be free’ was a rallying cry for early users of the web, and that tradition continues today. It means free both in the sense of not being charged for, but also in the sense of unbounded and able to move freely. Different online users will differ over whether they assume something can be shared unless it is marked confidential. However, it only takes one person to assume something can be shared for it to be spread, and others may then follow that lead.
This means that organisations need to make explicit where internal paperwork or information should not be shared unless cleared to do so in the appropriate way. However, our understanding of final papers for some governance bodies, such as the Governing Body is that papers are public unless marked ‘Confidential’ once sent to members of those bodies.
All papers, reports etc. produced should clearly state on their cover sheet their status (draft, final, for consultation etc.), whether they are confidential, and if so to whom the paper is restricted. Any paper marked ‘confidential’ should not be circulated beyond the stated list without the permission of the originator. Confidential papers should ideally carry that word on each page. If in doubt check the cover sheet or the originator.
Everyone should be sensitive and sensible about sharing information gleaned from conversations, emails or meetings with others not originally involved. If in doubt, check with the originator. Anyone who wishes something they say or write to remain confidential should make that clear to the recipients at the time.
Social media does not and should not change our fundamental understanding about confidentiality across the whole life of the Church. Private conversations or emails, confidential reports to Governing Body or other bodies, are confidential, both at the time and after. Only when a confidential item is explicitly released from its confidential status by those able to do so should it be shared. This is as true in relation to social media as it is to any other media or conversations with others.
All organisations rely on the respecting of confidences, and the Church is no different. Professional conduct demands this, and the Church has a right to expect this from its clergy and others.
As noted below, there is no legal protection offered by posting either anonymously or under an alias. While many bloggers use an alias either for themselves or as a shorthand way of referring to their site, most make their true identity easy to find. Some sites, such as Facebook, use people’s real names throughout, although of course it is always possible to register using a false name.
The blogging community has mixed views of anonymity. In general, it is frowned upon, mainly on moral grounds (in that it is only fair to identify yourself) but also on practical ones (if several different people in a discussion are posting anonymously, it quickly becomes hard to track who is saying what). However, it is wrong for official comments from an organisation to be made anonymously. When someone is commenting or writing on behalf of the Church, they should make their true identity clear from the start. It is also wrong to use anonymity as a way of evading responsibility for online activities. It should therefore only be used when personal safety is at stake.
Risks of social media
The High Court recently served a court order on an anonymous Twitter user via their Twitter feed (http://newa.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8185954.stm)mm. This forced the anonymous Twitter-user to reveal their identity. This follows an earlier court case brought by the Times newspaper which forced a blogger using an alias to reveal their true identity (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/06/16/times blogger anonymity/).
Defamation law in England and Wales currently states that each time a web page is viewed it becomes a published entity, and anyone defamed by it has 12 months from that point to bring an action. Web pages are essentially permanently open to libel actions until 12 months after they are taken offline.
In libel cases the defendant has to prove that the comments were justified – in other words they have to prove their own innocence. The plaintiff only has to prove that their reputation was damaged. Defamation is a civil matter, and damages are potentially unlimited, although awards above £100,000 are rare. The costs of defending against defamation are very high, so many people settle out of court.
There are also a range of additional hazards associated with using social media channels of communication, including:
- A member of staff, other employee or someone clearly linked to the Church (e.g. a cleric) posts something online that is illegal, defamatory, offensive or otherwise damaging to the Church, its reputation or relationships within it or with partners.
- Confidential information is disclosed, accidentally or deliberately.
- An individual within the Church posts comments about colleagues, managers or others that are serious enough to warrant investigation or possible disciplinary action.
- Decisions made by the GB, RB or DBF’s are undermined or disrespected through continued argument online.
- The speed of electronic communications, including social media, makes it easy to say something that is later regretted, but which has become permanently online for all to see.
Humour is an important part of any ongoing relationship or conversation. When talking to someone, or a group, we all use verbal or physical cues that we are making a joke, and we receive immediate feedback in the form of a smile or laughter (or the lack of) to let us know if the others treated it as humour. Online many of these cues are missing, and so it is easy for a joke to be taken seriously or misinterpreted. Make sure that it is clear when you are joking, not only to those reading it immediately, but also to people you don’t know, who might come across it later.
Also remember that it is not acceptable to pass off intentionally offensive comments as ‘just joking’. Humour is a great gift and an essential part of life, but should not be used to exclude, bully or offend in any situation.
Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and some other social media tools are based on the idea of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’, in which one user agrees to become a friend or follower of someone else. Depending on the settings chosen by the user, some or all messages can only be seen by friends. For some people, having as many friends or followers as possible is a goal of being online, which means that they might ‘befriend’ people they only slightly know or with whom they have a professional or other relationship in real life that would not normally be considered friendship. This can lead to one user revealing information to someone they wouldn’t in other contexts share it with. It is possible, even inadvertently, to use an online relationship to manipulate or be manipulated into unwanted or improper real world behaviour.
Particular care must be taken in social media links with children and young people. Refer to existing policies on safeguarding,
The core purpose of meetings is to reach decisions for the benefit of the Church and its mission. All participants in meetings owe it to the other participants and the rest of the Church to give their full attention to the matters at hand, to be open to the views presented by others and to be open to God. Participants should not be preoccupied by anything else, such as engaging in social media.
At the heart of this issue is a simple one of courtesy. In a meeting of any kind, to persistently or deliberately give attention to something other than the speaker is discourteous to them. It is better to wait for a scheduled break or a transition when it is clear that there will be no business for a short period of time. In the future social media might become part of how meetings are conducted. But for now in meetings all have an obligation to give their attention to the matter at hand and the speaker currently speaking.
Public meetings, such as the Diocesan Conference or Governing Body can be ‘live blogged’ by anyone in the public gallery. However, governance and other bodies should consider adopting the following depending on their particular needs:
- The prime duty in participating in such meetings is to contribute to this body’s Christian conferring and decision making.
- All governance bodies, committees and other bodies of the Church should make clear to members, visitors and supporting staff the terms under which they meet.
- Any confidential matters, items discussed in closed session or personal or staffing matters should not be discussed at all outside the room.
Monitoring and reporting other online activity
The Church in Wales is committed at all times to maintaining the highest standards of honesty, openness and accountability and recognises that its clergy, employees and lay members (church members) have an important role to play in maintaining these standards.
Church members are usually the first to know when someone inside or connected with the Church in Wales is doing something illegal or improper and it is recognised that church members may feel apprehensive about voicing their concerns. This may be because speaking up would be disloyal to other church members or to the Church in Wales or through fear that the concerns will not be taken seriously or may lead to repercussions for continued employment.
The Church in Wales does not believe that it is in anyone’s interest for Church members with knowledge of wrongdoing to remain silent. The Church in Wales takes all malpractice very seriously whether it is committed by clergy, employees or church members.
To ensure that church members are protected against victimisation or disciplinary action the Church in Wales has adopted the principles of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and will protect Church members who report wrong doing or malpractice. The aim of the policy is to ensure that as far as possible our Church members are able to inform us about any wrong doing or malpractice which they believe has occurred or is likely to occur.
The procedure to be followed if seeking to make a disclosure is set out at Annex 1. Further information about the procedure, its intention and its operation are set out at Annex 2 in the form of commonly asked questions and answers.
Frequently asked questions about reporting concerns
What sort of activities should be reported using this procedure?
It is impossible to give an exhaustive list of activities that constitute misconduct or malpractice but broadly speaking the Church in Wales would expect you to report the following:
- Criminal offences
- Failure to comply with legal obligations
- Miscarriage of justice
- Financial impropriety
- Actions which endanger the health and safety of staff or members of the public
- Abuse of property belonging to the Representative Body
- Actions which are intended to conceal any of the above
It will not always be clear that a particular action falls within one of these categories and Church members will need to use their own judgement. However the Church in Wales would prefer you to report concerns rather than keep quiet.
Will there be repercussions for me if I make a report?
If you make a report in good faith then, even if is not confirmed by an investigation, the concern will be valued and appreciated. In particular you will not be liable to disciplinary action. However, if you make a false report maliciously or for personal gain then you may face disciplinary action.
Do I need proof of wrongdoing to make my report?
The Church in Wales does not expect you to have absolute proof of any misconduct or malpractice that you report. However you will need to be able to show reasons for your concern.
Will my identity be protected if I make a report?
Everything possible will be done to keep your identity secret if you so wish. However there may be circumstances, e.g. if your report becomes the subject of criminal investigation, where you may be needed as a witness. Should this be the case then the matter will be discussed with you at the earliest opportunity.
How do I make a report?
You can make a report orally or in writing. You would normally be expected to raise your concerns with your Diocesan Bishop unless your concern involves the Diocesan Bishop when you should refer your concern to the Archbishop’s Registrar at the Representative Body of the Church in Wales. Which of these is the most appropriate will depend on the seriousness of the malpractice and whom you think is involved.
Can I make a report externally?
It is hoped that this policy will give you reassurance to raise the matter internally in the first instance. However there may be circumstances where the wrong doing is extremely serious and where it may be appropriate for you to report your concerns to an outside body such as the police.
If you intend to make a report externally then you should be aware that you must have reasonable belief that that malpractice or wrong doing has or is taking place and some evidence to support it.
How will my report be investigated?
You will receive written acknowledgement of receipt of your complaint within 5 working days.
The Diocesan Bishop or Archbishop’s Registrar as appropriate will make preliminary enquiries to decide whether a full investigation is necessary then depending on the nature of the misconduct your concerns will either:
- Be investigated internally; or
- Be referred to an appropriate external person, for example the police or external auditors for investigation.
Subject to any legal constraints you will be informed of the outcome of preliminary enquiries, or of the full investigation and any further action that has been taken.
Can I get independent advice?
If you are unsure whether to use this procedure or you want independent advice at any stage you may contact the independent charity Public Concern at Work 0207 404 6609.
Top Tips for using Social Media Safely
Know the rules
Make sure you know what policy the Church in Wales has in place for using social media sites.
Use Secure Passwords
Make it really secure – use at least 14 characters and mix in upper and lower case, numbers and symbols.
Check default settings
Social media sites have large numbers of connected users. Make sure you check each site’s default settings so your details are not on public display and minimise the amount of personal information you provide.
Be picture prudent
Be careful what pictures you show. Avoid adding compromising or embarrassing images that might harm you, the Church in Wales or its members.
Beware of Big Brother
Using social media sites as a diary is OK if you want anyone to know everything about you.
Secure your computer
Your life is valuable; so is the life of the Church in Wales. Hackers want you and your data. Only use computers with up to date security software and effective firewalls.
Think before you click
Never click on links just because you know the sender – if the email looks inappropriate it probably is.
Be wary of spammers trying to get your details by sending unsolicited invitations. If you do not know the person then the best advice is to ignore the request.