The Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has an interesting rule for the clergy in its member churches: We see something questionable on your social media pages, we retain the right to affect your ordination process.
Not only does the KAC's social media disclosure statement require staff to befriend the denomination on Facebook, but it also secures accountability and monitoring rights.
Social media and online use policies are becoming a common staple in church employee handbooks. Potential liabilities concerning copyright law, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), discrimination, privacy, and defamation have forced churches to consider the potential problems caused by their staffs interacting with others online.
As denominations and churches search for ways to use social media effectively and safely, the following terms and conditions for a social media policy should be considered, according to Frank Sommerville, a Texas-based attorney and Editorial Advisor for Church Law & Tax Report:
• You agree to write under your own name.
• You may write about the church, your job, or some aspect of our business on a regular basis.
• You agree not to attack fellow employees, agents, members, or vendors. You may disagree with the church and its officers, provided your tone is respectful and you do not resort to personal attacks.
• You agree not to disclose any sensitive, proprietary, confidential, or financial information about the church, other than what is publicly available.
• You agree not to post any material that is obscene, defamatory, profane, libelous, threatening, harassing, abusive, hateful, or embarrassing to another person or any other entity.
• You agree not to post any material that violates the privacy or publicity rights of another.
• You agree to conform to the rules of the Church Employee Handbook, especially as it relates to rules regarding conduct outside of your employment.
A complete sample form and additional information on how your church should handle social media and posting content online is available in Using Social Media Safely, a training resource from ChurchSafety.com.
Wondering how your church is doing in this area? Take the assessment "Is Our Church's Use of Social Media Safe?" to find out.
Lindsey Learn is assistant editor to the Church Management Team at Christianity Today International.
This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."
Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.