There is a very fine line between public and private and on Social Media which can be razor thin. Many of us have signed up for Facebook, Twitter or other platforms as private individuals. The terms of service of those platforms also clearly articulate that the content we post and the individual user controls who has accesses to that content.
However, when social media is used for professional purposes, the line between personal and professional can be blurred. When using “private” accounts to promote the churches and institutions to which we belong, that which may have been considered private becomes public. Once that line has been crossed, we cease to be private individuals expressing opinions. Our private opinions and accounts become extensions of the church or institution that we represent — for good or for ill.
Many professional clergy and church leaders use personal accounts to help further the overall reach of church’s message. It is a great way of living the Great Commission and being a visible sign of Christ. And I would encourage people to continue to live as outward visible signs of God’s reconciliation with the world. But acting this way also needs to come with a caution.
If you use your personal account for church business – or any business for that matter – – actions in your personal life can have consequences for the church or institution you represent. You cease to be just an individual, but a representative. This is important to keep in mind when you delete, censor, debate or silence comments you don’t like.
If you blend your personal and public lives, your actions no longer just represent you, but they represent your specific parish and the church in general. It is always best to take a step back from the keyboard or device before posting something in the heat of the moment and ask how your words reflect the church. Am I living and posting in a way that reflects the image of Christ? Is the Kingdom of God served by this tweet or comment?
As we head towards the season of Lent, now more than ever is a good time to reflect upon our social media practices, how we engage with colleagues, parishioners and the wider world.