The importance of the appropriate use of social media cannot be overstated. It is a primary means of communication today. How we and our institutions represent ourselves on social media form the cornerstone of our relationships with one another as well as those not familiar with our denomination. Therefore, a Social Media Committee was formed in August 2020 to help our church leaders navigate the complicated world of social media use. Many dedicated volunteers contributed to this endeavor and worked carefully and thoughtfully to create this document. It has gone through a number of changes, and this version represents the best of our collective efforts. General Council has approved the following document ,and we introduce this standing resolution for consideration by the delegates at the 2021 Annual Convention.
In today’s world of pervasive social media use, all of our church leaders have become the outward face of the Swedenborgian Church. An essential question our leaders might now mindfully be thinking of asking themselves is: How am I loving God and the neighbor in what I post?
As church leaders—ordained clergy, licensed pastors, lay leaders, committee, and board members— both local and national, we have to be especially discerning as we speak for the local church and for the greater church. Like it or not, we carry additional authority and responsibility. We need to be consciously, and conscientiously, aware that our words and sentiments online can project a positive or negative influence, elicit a calming or angering effect, promote spiritual enlightenment or unrest.
As lay and clergy leaders in the Swedenborgian Church of North America, we affirm our tradition’s embrace of varied opinions as well as the importance of personal choice and freedom in all matters (Secrets of Heaven §2876). We value a diverse community that is bound together by shared love of the Lord and service to the neighbor. As Swedenborgian Church leaders, we also carry a responsibility in all we do and say—this can be especially challenging because of the blur between personal and professional communications. It is hoped that these “Good Practices for Social Media Use” can help lessen that challenge with thoughts on how to maintain a neighborly and respectable social media presence with God’s love and wisdom at the forefront.
It is a given that social media can be used as a powerful, positive tool for communication or a precarious emotional outlet that can lead to risky, contrary, and potentially harmful commentary. It is our responsibility to use our discernment. Let’s consider asking ourselves the questions below before posting:
- What kind of conversation am I starting or encouraging?
- Why am I posting? Am I feeling tired, angry, or scared? Am I feeling provoked?
- If there is conflict—how is my contribution going to de-escalate the situation?
- If I’ve already contributed to this conversation today—would it better to wait 24 hours before adding anything further?
- Would I choose to say these things face-to-face?
- Would this conversation be better handled privately?
- Will I be embarrassed or cause embarrassment if this post appears somewhere else?
- Are my comments towards people and/or the church following the sentiment expressed here?
- What can I do to make this conversation more inclusive, just, and equitable?
In addition to attending to the wisdom of the above list, special attention needs to be focused on how adults interact responsibly with our often-vulnerable youth online. Added to the all important moral, ethical, and spiritual reasons is the liability risk. Following are further good practices that will help us maintain healthy and safe relationships all around:
- All public content, communication, and information shared should be professional and youth appropriate.
- Unless other arrangements have been made with parents, leaders should not send requests outside of family to add youth to their network on a social media website (“friend requests”).
- Adults may accept friend requests from youth, however, we should carefully discern the level of contact we should maintain with youth prior to responding to these requests.
- If friend requests from youth are declined, we should explain to the youth why this was done so as to maintain healthy face-to-face relationships.
- Written messages and transmitted images can often be ambiguous, confusing, and taken out of context. Always follow professional standards and do not share any questionable content with youth.
- Pictures or videos of minors may only be shared with the permission of the minor and their parent or legal guardian.
- Ask yourself: does my communication reflect good and wise practices for working with children and youth? Would you say this to a child or youth if you were face-to-face with them?
And finally, some nuts and bolts for all adults and youth:
Privacy, Confidentiality, Authorization
- Respecting Privacy: I will respect my own privacy as well as that of my co-workers/friends and of any organization by not providing or sharing any personal or confidential information, including addresses or locations, without permission from that person or organization. I will ask myself: Is this my news to tell? Do I have permission to share this information?
- I will remember that, unless duly authorized, I will not speak on behalf of the Swedenborgian Church—or even my own local congregation. I will be professional and maintain the integrity of my office as a church leader through social media.
- I will be aware that giving my opinion, especially on hotly debated topics, can be construed as making a statement on behalf of the church.
- For my protection and the protection of the Swedenborgian Church, I note that I am prohibited from using internal or external social media channels to discuss confidential items, legal matters, litigation, or organizational financial performance. Confidential information includes anything labeled as such or information not available to the public.
- I will cite resources and not violate copyright and fair use laws nor plagiarize another’s work. If required, I will obtain permission if I wish to use material created by someone else.
Approaching social media with clarity of mind and sincerity of heart contributes to useful experiences that promote healthy interactions, meaningful conversations, and love of the neighbor.
For, as we are reminded, “Everyone can see that charity is doing no evil to the neighbor; for charity is love towards our neighbor, and a person who loves anyone wants to avoid doing evil to them. There is a conjunction of souls between them.”
(Doctrine of Charity no. 14)