Additionally, some common social media situations in ministry can potentially expose a church to liability—and it is important to know how to respond. The following list is not exhaustive, but it can offer guidance in regard to several specific scenarios.
- Reposting copyrighted materials. A church can easily find itself in a situation in which it has committed copyright infringement. When posting on a social media page or a website, church leaders should remember that any material—outside of content directly created by the person drafting the post or article—must be duly credited, and permission for use must be duly obtained. Authorized use can be obtained via payment for a licensing fee or by expressed consent from the original creator of the work. Obtaining permission for use also applies to photographs and even digital images. Reposting verbatim, without the need for payment or consent of the copyright holder, is only allowed under what copyright law deems as “fair use,” which is when material is used for a specific purpose, such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, or research.
- Prayer requests and sensitive information. The publication of a person’s prayer request should not be done without that individual’s express consent. The invasion of privacy that results otherwise is a huge point of liability for the church. Also note the sensitive nature of posting images and videos of congregants, especially children.
- Privacy settings. Facebook and Twitter have privacy settings that can be customized to ensure maximum protection for a church. This can be a way to manage who has access to the church’s posts. Churches can also limit who has access to their accounts and institute an administrator-approval process before an item is posted on their public pages. On public pages, the church may also post a disclaimer indicating the type of information it will allow: e.g., no disparaging remarks about individuals or the church, no profanity, and so on.
- Deciding who to follow or “friend.” Just as the content of posts on social media should be reflective of a church’s values and mission, who the church follows on social media should be just as thoughtful and consistent with what the church and individual leaders represent. The account’s administrator (or the church’s social media team) should monitor who the church follows and is followed by; should any inappropriate or concerning activity arise, it can then be immediately addressed.
2. Control the narrative: post what you want the world to know about you and your ministry.
One of the challenges when a post goes viral is that it is not always in context. A snippet that is recorded and uploaded can catch someone mid-thought or mid-sentence, presenting a skewed account of what was really said. The “eavesdroppers” who later view the video not only receive a message that may be out of context, but they share it in the same way—and that lack of context is perpetually multiplied. What will make the difference is if, as a matter of course, your church is active on social media platforms and establishing the footprint of your ministry. Should anything ever be taken out of context, there will then be substance in the internet ecosystem that speaks more loudly about who you are and what you represent.