31 January 2010

Methodist Social Media Guidelines

OK, I'm going to weigh in on the debate on the "Social Media Paper" going before (British) Methodist Council this coming week.

I'm afraid I've only seen links that jump right to the report and because I don't know how to create links in this situation, I cannot give a link to the report. However, a number of other Methodist bloggers have already provided links. Angela Shier-Jones' comment A place to Confer...? has a link and also one of the best comments on the matter that I've read.

There seems to be a view amongst some bloggers that the paper is an attempt to stifle on-line free speech amongst Methodists or even to discourage the use of blogging and social media altogether. I honestly don't see this.

On the theory that most people probably won't follow the links, I have copied below what I think is the substance of the guidelines. I note that the paper itself says that the guidelines will not be as stringently applied to office holders or ministers as they will be to Connexional Staff. That could be construed as "well, it's OK for Connexional Staff to have their freedom of speech suppressed" except that I don't think this is a paper about suppressing freedom of speech.

Before I became a minister, I worked for a large US company and the guidelines on internet usage and blogging (there was little social media at the time) were far more stringent. It seems to me to be reasonable - indeed, a no-brainer - that I would not want to gratuitously bring the Methodist Church into ill repute for no good reason. (And if I felt it necessary to go after the Church hammer and tongs for a gave injustice, I personally would not want to be part of it.)

I don't understand why this is arousing so much anxiety. I know that Methodists are an ornery lot but it appears that the idea of being team players and treating others the way we'd want to be treated ourselves makes a lot of people nervous.

Anyway, here is the substance of the guidelines:

5.1 Connexional Team staff are bound by ‘Speaking for the Methodist Church’ and
its appendices. Repeated failure to follow these documents can lead to disciplinary
action, and the same will be true of the following guidelines on social media.

Be responsible

i. Engaging in social media for your own purposes should be done in your own
time. Even social media used in your own time and on your own equipment has
the potential to raise disciplinary issues. The easiest way to prevent most
problems is to state that the views being expressed are your own and not the
Church’s, but you still need to avoid making statements that could bring the
Church into disrepute.

ii. Staff may only respond to or participate in social media for Church purposes
either as an explicit part of their job description, or with permission of their line
manager. In the latter case, this might either be a blanket approval or on a case
by case basis. The staff member and line manager should agree roughly how
much time this should take, and review regularly to make sure that this limit is
realistic and being met.

iii. The Church aims to have a single spokesperson on any topic. If that isn’t you,
you should at least find out who that person is and see how they might respond if
you were to speak on the issue, or ask if it would be more useful for them to
respond in their own name.

iv. Don’t share anything inappropriate about yourself, colleagues or any projects
that are not yet ready to be publicised. Treat things you learn at work as
confidential unless explicitly cleared to talk about them publicly.

v. You are ultimately responsible for your online activities; both the content and
the time spent. If either or both of these do not meet acceptable standards, then
your line manager will raise it as a concern. If the unacceptable behaviour
continues, then you could face disciplinary action.
Represent the Church properly

vi. Above all, remember that we are a Christian Church. Whatever your own faith
story, do not do or say anything that damages or undermines our reputation as a
Church, and respond in all ways with Christian love.

vii. Clearly state your name and position with the Church. Do not take part
anonymously, or under an alias (except as noted below in section 9)
viii. Where possible, link to relevant papers, such as Council or Conference
reports, fact sheets, press releases or foundational documents, especially if the
Conference has adopted a statement on a particular topic, therefore making it the
official position of the Church.

ix. Be professional in all your online activities. Check your spelling and grammar,
don’t be offensive or say anything improper. Make your arguments clearly and
truthfully. Even if people disagree with what you say, they should be impressed
with your manner. Don’t do or encourage anything illegal or improper.


x. Respect others and their beliefs and positions, even where you disagree.

xi. Make your cases and arguments constructively, factually, and with respect for
the need for good quality public discourse. Be truthful and honest.

xii. Respect the outcomes of our governance processes, which are based on
democratic and representative principles. You should not undermine a governance
outcome you disagree with. If you feel you must discuss it, then do so
constructively, stating the official position of the Church first and then stating
clearly why you disagree.
Ministers and other office holders of the Church

6.1 As noted above ministers (presbyters and deacons) and other office holders are
in different positions to that of Connexional Team staff. In practice this means that
these groups have more freedom than Connexional Team staff, but the principle
that all are responsible for what they write still applies. The core summary of being
responsible, respectful and good representatives of the Church remains true, but
different people will have different ways of following this in practice. Standing Order
740 clauses (2) and (3) give an outline of what the Church expects of those
admitted into full Connexion or recognised and regarded and of probationers.

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