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Church of England publishes social media guidelines

Rose Gamble - The Tablet - Thu, Jul 11th 2019

Justin Welby said he was concerned at how 'savagely' social media can be used.Church of England publishes social media guidelines

Justin Welby and Facebook’s European head, Nicola Mendelsohn - Photo: Facebook

The Church of England on Monday published its first ever set of social media guidelines aimed at encouraging a more positive atmosphere online.

At the same time, the Church of England is urging Christians and others to sign up to a voluntary “digital charter” pledging to ”help make social media and the web more positive places”.

The C of E guidelines acknowledge that social media provides a “very public way of enabling Christians to share the good news of Jesus Christ”. One of its “many joys” is in it being “immediate, interactive, conversational and open-ended”, the guidelines state.

But it says there can be "downsides" if users "do not apply the same common sense, kindness and sound judgment which we would use in a face-to-face encounter".

The guidelines encourage users to be respectful by avoiding posting anything hateful, abusive or threatening and to be kind, encouraging them to treat others how they would wish to be treated. It also encourages users to be accountable for things they do, say and write and to respect copyright and credit others where it is due.

The Conference of Religious of England and Wales (CoR), the membership organisation for Catholic Religious Orders throughout England and Wales, warmly welcomed the new guidelines and charter.

"Its five principles of truth, kindness, welcome, inspiration and togetherness are absolutely in tune with the guidance we offer our members as they attempt to embrace the new opportunities offered by digital communication," said General Secretary of CoR, Valerie Nazareth. "Around 100 members of Religious Congregations have this year attended our training sessions, in which we offer guidance around the opportunities posed by social media as well as the pitfalls. Our sessions include reference to the divisions that exist within ‘Catholic twitter’ and we always advise that it is preferable to shed light not heat. We’re absolutely delighted to see more and more congregations embrace social media and were pleased that a recent profession of final vows was livestreamed on Facebook – which we saw as a powerful witness to the commitment being made.”

Introducing the guidelines and charter on Monday in a live video message from Facebook’s London Office, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said he was concerned at how “savagely” social media can be used.

“When you are expressing an opinion, do so with kindness. And be welcoming: don’t throw out stuff, tweet or post things, that is a shut-out. That’s not the point of social media. It is social media,” he told Facebook’s European head, Nicola Mendelsohn.

He also said: “When you’re talking on social media, put the truth out. There’s no such thing as an alternative fact: there are opinions, and there is truth.”

The Church of England will be following the guidelines in its postings on all its social media accounts. The Church’s and Archbishops’ Communications teams state in the guidelines that they may take action - include deleting comments, blocking users or reporting comments - if they receive complaints or spot inappropriate, unsuitable or offensive material posted to the national social media accounts.

In a statement Archbishop Welby said:

“Social media has transformed the way we live our lives. As Christians we are called to engage in a way which is shaped by the example of Jesus. As we respond to the call on each of us to be witnesses to Jesus Christ, I encourage all of us to consider how we live our lives as witnesses online. Each time we interact online we have the opportunity either to add to currents of cynicism and abuse or to choose instead to share light and grace. My prayer is that through these guidelines and charter we can encourage regular and not-so-regular churchgoers, sceptics and those who are surprised to find themselves interested, to be open to think and experience more of the Christian faith.”

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