UNITED METHODIST CHURCH of GREEN VALLEY - SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY
Social media encompasses a broad array of online activity, all of which is tractable and traceable. It includes social networks like Facebook and MySpace; professional networks such as LinkedIn; the live blogging tool, Twitter; video and photo sites like YouTube and Flicker; social bookmarking such as Digg and Delicious, information sites like wikis; as well as virtual worlds or other media yet to be identified or created that are used to connect you with the rest of the world.
Today, many churches are turning to social media and social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to connect with people and promote outreaches and other church programs. And that’s what these tools were designed for: easy mass communication and media sharing. Easy, and a creative way to do business and connect with people inside and outside the church, but appropriate policies and monitoring procedures need to be put in place and adhered to avoid any libel issues.
Facebook has significant benefits for United Methodist Church of Green Valley. It’s an easy way to connect with those our church is hoping to reach. Since more than 750 million Americans are already on Facebook, it’s a great place for a church to reach out and get exposure. Facebook also affords plenty of opportunities for church members to quickly connect with one another in this high-speed society, organize events, provide feedback on church functions, and even—build community.
Simple Guide to Safe Social Media Use
Below is an outline of guidelines for online behavior for those representing the church to follow when participating in social media activities. As new tools on the Web are introduced, and new challenges emerge, this document will, of necessity, evolve.
Creating and Managing Content
All content will follow the guidelines listed below:
Be direct, informative and brief.
Credit appropriately. Identify all copyrighted or borrowed material with citations and links. When publishing any material online that includes another’s direct or paraphrased quotes, thoughts, ideas, photos, or videos, always give credit to the original material or author, where applicable.
Fact-check posts. All content for posting will be evaluated for accuracy and truthfulness.
Spell and grammar check everything. Content never disappears entirely once it’s been posted.
Correct errors promptly. If errors or mistakes are found, they will be corrected immediately.
When posting, each post will always be in line with the online identity of the church. All online postings/correspondence will:
Be transparent. When participating in any online community, identity and affiliation will be disclosed. When posting to a blog, aliases or being anonymous are not options and real names will be used.
Obey the law. There will be no posting of information or conduct via online activity that may violate applicable local, state or federal laws or regulations.
When responding to comments or postings, each post will follow these guidelines:
When posting, controversial or potentially inflammatory subjects are not allowed.
The tone of all comment will be respectful and informative, never condescending or “loud.”
All correspondences will be in sentence case format, not capital letters for all social media interaction.
Personal attacks, online fights and hostile communications will be avoided.
All correspondences will be written reasonably, factually, and with good humor, understand and crediting the other person's point of view, while also avoiding any communications that could result in personal, professional or credibility attacks.
Never disclose proprietary or confidential information.
Customer Service Engagement
Regarding customer service through social sites, the following will happen with each customer service request/engagement:
Field all requests/questions.
When appropriate, answer with prepared responses that have been pre-approved.
When unable to answer, respond to question saying it has been forwarded to the appropriate department for answering and follow-up accordingly.
Forward all requests/questions to management for retention and future reference.
Social Media and Social Networking Policies and Guidelines
Here is the official policy and guidelines for using social media at United Methodist Church of Green Valley. As you know, social media continues to evolve each and every day – and this policy and these guidelines may evolve right along with it – so please make sure to check back periodically for updates. Policy will be posted on the church website.
The Policy and Guidelines cover any use of social media if you are an employee, agent, volunteer, member or independent contractor of United Methodist Church of Green Valley and engage on social media sites for professional purposes. To be clear, if a use of social media constitutes a use for professional purposes, that use must adhere to both the Policy and the Guidelines. United Methodist Church of Green Valley strongly recommends following these guidelines when using any social media site. The goal of these guidelines is to assist everyone with the proper and positive usage of social media and to help protect United Methodist Church of Green Valley and our employees, agents or independent contractors from the risks of using social media.
If you have any questions or comments on these guidelines or would like any additional information on these topics, please contact: United Methodist Church of Green Valley administrative staff at 520.625.4712 firstname.lastname@example.org
As we noted above, United Methodist Church of Green Valley recognizes the important opportunities afforded by social media sites and we encourage our employees, agents and independent contractors to participate in this Conversation Age. That said, there are some unique challenges to the emerging social media sites and United Methodist Church of Green Valley hopes to protect both you and the Church by implementing this policy.
We view our employees, agents or independent contractors as representatives of Green Valley Community Church/UMC. As such, and just as in your daily lives, we ask that you continue to hold yourselves out in the context of social media sites in a professional manner that is reflective of our church and our reputation.
It is important to understand that any mention or connection to United Methodist Church of Green Valley on social media sites, including identifying United Methodist Church of Green Valley as your employer, are reflective of both you as an individual and United Methodist Church of Green Valley as a religious organization.
In fact, any mention or connection to United Methodist Church of Green Valley on social media sites may create risk to United Methodist Church of Green Valley and, therefore, those uses of social media are subject to both this policy and the guidelines below:
All church groups wishing to have a social media page, such as on Facebook, must have approval prior to starting the page and must adhere to all church social media policy for Facebook pages. Church groups wanting to maintain their own Facebook page must submit a request for their proposed Facebook page to the church Social Media Administrator. Note that for most purposes the general church Facebook page may be the preferred option. Each committee within the church may have their own social media page. Each committee that has its own social media page must have one person responsible for the contents of the page.
Information that is sent to Facebook is not confidential. It can be shared or reposted to others and, therefore, only information appropriate to all should be posted. The United Methodist Church of Green Valley Facebook page will have at least three administrators. All posts will be reviewed by at least one administrator.
No communications on social media sites should be made as though the communications are “official” statements of United Methodist Church of Green Valley without the prior written authorization of United Methodist Church of Green Valley. Any mention of United Methodist Church of Green Valley must adhere to the brand guidelines, including usages of trademarks and logos.
All policies and procedures set forth in the United Methodist Church of Green Valley Social Media Policy remain in effect. Please review those procedures.
Online Etiquette Rules of Conduct:
Be Truthful. Always communicate facts that are true. If you are not sure if something is true or not, do not write it as though it is true! It is OK to write opinions, but make sure that your opinion is NOT communicated as a fact.
Be Positive. If you do not have something nice to say, think twice before you say it.
Be “Short and Sweet.” If you want someone to read your message, get to the point and quickly.
Be Up to Date. Many readers are interested in learning something. Be a source of information, but make it new and fresh.
Be Yourself. Do not falsely impersonate anyone.
Know Your Audience. Consider the appropriateness of your messages and photos – especially if there are minors that can access your information. (See details in the section pertaining to photo use.)
Using Proper Spelling and Grammar. Even though use of abbreviations in texting and various forms of social media is widespread, we recommend using proper spelling and grammar in all professional messages.
Correct Your Mistakes. If you make a mistake, make sure to print a retraction or correction to your message. If you try to correct someone else’s mistake, United Methodist Church of Green Valley recommends sending him/her a direct message rather than a public note. It is both polite and avoids any embarrassment in case your correction is inaccurate.
No Illicit Statements. It should go without saying, but no messages should contain statements that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, gambling-related, drug-related, alcohol-related, profane, racist, sexually explicit or indecent.
Use Quality, Not Quantity. It is hard for a reader to absorb multiple messages in a row. Consider spreading out your messages to give readers sufficient time to reflect on your message.
ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS: If something tells you that you should not write it, don’t – or consult someone before you do!
Everything can be used against you in a Court of Law. Assume that everything lasts forever on the Internet and it can come back to haunt you.
Know your Code of Ethics – DO NOT DISCLOSE CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION!
Consider that information passed through third party email systems such as Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail accounts may not be considered confidential.
Know Your Federal and Local Laws. There are federal and state laws that govern Privacy Laws.
Don’t Provide Too Much Information. When posting comments, writing a status update, or deciding what information to include on the church Facebook pages, remember that anyone could be reading it. Facebook might seem like a place to interact with friends (and it is), but Facebook also attracts deviants, predators, and those hoping to steal the identities of others. Some information is necessary, but revealing too much is dangerous.
Delete Anything Inappropriate. If the church’s Facebook pages are accessible to all, then anyone can post a comment on the “wall.” The information page of our Facebook page will state that the Church will remove any comments, photos, links or videos that are objectionable at the church’s discretion. At least one person/administrator will be checking this daily (email notifications will be set up to alert person(s) about any new posts), and anything inappropriate will be deleted immediately. Whether it’s an inappropriate comment, a link to a questionable site, or a harmless comment posted by someone with a racy profile picture—these things, if not removed, might reflect negatively on our church, especially for those who could be visiting our church’s Facebook pages without any prior knowledge about whom we are and what United Methodist Church of Green Valley values as a congregation. As far as that visitor knows, the person posting inappropriate content could be a church member—and the fact that it hasn’t been deleted will suggest that the church leaders didn’t have a problem with it.
Understand the Privacy Settings. The information page of the Facebook page should state that the site is not private or confidential. Face book’s default privacy settings are not private. As a church, there is some information that should be made available to all (who we are, what we believe in, where we are located, etc.), and other information that will need to be kept private. Customize the privacy settings to get the right balance. Facebook can change its privacy settings at any time. Users may be notified (depending on the changes), but they may not. It’s the Administrator’s responsibility to check the settings and to continue checking them.
Protect Photos. Sharing photo albums is one of the features that attract many users to Facebook. But as a church, we must be extremely careful regarding what pictures to post—and who will be allowed to view them. Participants must be informed when being photographed or videotaped, as the buildings and grounds of the church are not public space. When minors are pictured, you must have parental permission and must not include the minors’ names in the captions. And do not make these photo albums available to everyone. Doing so could open up the church family to potential predators. UMC of GV policy is to not tag photos of adults or minors.
Making First Impressions. Facebook is fun, but the church should remember that any affiliated Facebook page could be offering a first impression for those in the community (or anywhere in the world) who have never been to the church. Facebook provides a venue for friends to stay in touch, for new acquaintances to become friends, and for friends and family members to interact in amusing ways. Having fun is not a bad thing—but if the church is taking the time to operate Facebook pages, then they should be doing it with a clear purpose in mind.
Once users have configured their privacy settings, and once they know how to control who can view their information (including who has access to their photo albums), the key to safe Facebook use is simply being smart about what’s posted.
One flippant or reckless comment could seriously damage the church’s reputation. It could also deter people from visiting on Sunday morning or anytime. Those responsible for maintaining a church’s Facebook pages should always be cautious about how their comments might be perceived by those who aren’t familiar with the church community. For example, an inside joke posted on the church’s Facebook page might seem completely harmless … to those involved. But if there’s any chance that a joke will be misinterpreted by those who happen to be checking out the church’s pages (perhaps because they’re thinking of visiting), then it’s probably not worth posting. Save the inside jokes for emails or in-person interactions—not for publicly accessible social media sites.
Users do have the ability to delete comments from their page. If someone posts something inappropriate on the church’s page—whether it’s a member making a joke or perhaps someone being intentionally malicious—it can and should be deleted. If a church is going to have its own Facebook page, then they should have at least two persons who check it daily and sent email alerts of new posts. Then, if someone posts something inappropriate, it can be removed in a timely fashion.
Posting- Photos & Videos of Children Online
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (“COPPA”) protects certain personal information that a website collects from children under the age of 13. Personal information is defined as: (A) a first and last name; (B) a home or other physical address, including street name and name of a city or town; (C) an email address; (D) a telephone number; (E) a Social Security number; (F) any other identifier that the Federal Trade Commission determines/permits the physical or online contacting of a specific individual; or (G) information concerning the child or the parents of that child that the website collects online from the child and combines with an identifier described in this paragraph.
Each individual owns his or her likeness or other identifiable characteristic. Stated another way, each person owns his or her face. No one may use his or her face (or other individual identifiable characteristic) in any commercial manner. If the church uses the videos or images to promote the church or makes them available on the Web, then the courts will likely find that the church used the images in a commercial manner. This use may create an invasion of the privacy lawsuit for the individuals whose image appears in the video or photo.
The church is responsible for all activities occurring at church events. As a result, the church is responsible if anyone (employee or volunteer) takes photos or videos for the church at church events. This will include Sunday school teachers and nursery workers, youth volunteers, UMC of GV staff and parents. The first question is whether the church shot the video or photograph in a public place at a public event. If so, then the church does not need permission to take the photographs or videos. However, churches are private venues.
Church events are private, though the public is invited. As a result, the videos and photos shot at VBS and Sunday school, or any event on church grounds do not qualify for this exemption. An example of a public event at a public place would be the church hosting a food drive at a local park.
The next question is whether the individuals are “public” individuals involved in activities where the public is invited. If the person is famous, and the event is an event where the public was invited, then the courts may find that the church has not invaded the public individual’s privacy.
All church activities may be taped and photographed for church media/publication uses. Anyone who wishes to opt out will have the opportunity to do so.
For events that are for children, such as Youth Group, Vacation Bible School and Summer Camps, the registration forms includes a notice of photography and or taping and require a signature from the parent for written consent.
We do not currently have a Twitter account. All UMC of GV Social Media guidelines will apply to Twitter.
Websites provide a place to communicate the church’s identity, values and mission. Websites also provide information about church functions and outreach events. The website team is responsible to control the content visible on the website.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
The federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires certain commercial websites to obtain parental consent before collecting, using or disclosing personal information from children less than 13 years of age. The purpose of COPPA is to protect the privacy of children using the Internet. It was enacted in response to the widespread use of the Internet by pedophiles to obtain personal information from children. COPPA achieves its goal by requiring commercial websites and online services directed to (or that knowingly collect information from) children under 13 to provide notice about their policies with respect to the collection, use and disclosure of children’s personal information.
Please see United Methodist Church of Green Valley Safe Sanctuaries and Child Protection policy/social media policy.
Invasion of Privacy
The use of someone’s likeness without permission has been deemed to be an invasion of privacy.
UMC of GV will print notices periodically in church bulletins or newsletters, informing members that the church occasionally uses photos of people and groups on the church website and that members objecting to the use of their photos should so inform the church office. A list will be maintained of persons who have requested that their photos not be used.
- Prayer Lists.
It is the practice of this church to publish prayer lists, providing the names of the sick and their prayer needs for the purpose of intercessory prayer. Information regarding a person’s medical condition needs to be communicated in this fashion.
Prayer List Policy: If United Methodist Church of Green Valley opts to post the “prayer list” on its website or via social media platforms, it shall only post the name of the member with their permission and not the specific needs as members may consider this an invasion of privacy.
In no event should any personally identifiable information about a minor be
disclosed on a church website or social media site that would enable someone to initiate direct contact with him or her. Such information would include, for example, the minor’s first and last name plus any one or more of the following: (1) a telephone number; (2) cell phone number; (3) email address; (4) residential address; (5) school; (6) account or access information for a web-based forum; or (7) home church (if the church has a website that contains a directory of members’ names, addresses, and telephone numbers); (8) and birthdates or age.
United Methodist Church of Green Valley Policy: Defamation
Should United Methodist Church of Green Valley decide to host discussion boards on its
Website, overseeing discussions on social media platform as a website must be done. It should employ the following techniques to reduce its risk of liability for defamatory content. This is the framework for the discussion board requirements.
- Require persons to register in order to post messages to the website discussion board. Registration allows the website provider to block users who post offensive and potentially defamatory information.
- Have a church employee or committee chair moderate the discussion board, reviewing all messages before posting them.
- Have a church employee review all materials posted to the website to check for potentially defamatory information.
- Post a disclaimer on the United Methodist Church of Green Valley website prohibiting anyone from posting defamatory material.
- Should the church employee or committee chair find offensive material or defamatory information posted by someone and feel the need, they have the power to block or report the offensive person making the post on the social media platforms.
The Communications Decency Act
The federal Communications Decency Act immunizes providers of interactive computer services against liability arising from content created by third parties: “No provider . . . of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This grant of immunity applies only if the interactive computer service provider is not also an “information content provider,” which is defined as someone who is “responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of” the offending content.
Copyright Infringements Online
Churches can commit copyright infringement when creating and maintaining their own websites or social networking sites. Here are some examples:
Images. The use of someone else’s image on your website without permission is a
potential copyright infringement. Some “clip art” providers allow the use of their
work on a website for a fee. Before using clip art, be sure to read carefully the terms of the license.
Text. The use of copyrighted text on a website without permission may infringe
upon the copyright owner’s exclusive rights of reproduction and public distribution unless a defense such as fair use is available, or the use is authorized by consent of the copyright owner.
Linking. Most Web pages are written in computer languages, chiefly HTML, which allows the programmer to prescribe the appearance of the Web page on the computer screen and to instruct the computer to perform an operation if the cursor is placed over a particular point on the screen and the mouse is clicked. Programming a particular point on a screen to transfer the user to another Web page when the point (referred to as a hyperlink) is clicked is called linking.
Web pages can be designed to link to other Web pages on the same site or to Web pages maintained by different sites. For example, a Web page maintained by a church may provide a hyperlink to its parent denomination’s site or to other websites of interest to its members. Links bear a relationship to the information superhighway comparable to the relationship that roadway signs bear to roads. Like roadway signs, they point out the direction. Unlike roadway signs, they take one almost instantaneously to the desired destination with the mere click of a computer mouse.
A few courts have addressed the question of whether the use of links on a website infringes upon the copyright of the linked site. While not entirely free from doubt, the answer appears to be no. To illustrate, one court observed:
Links are what unify the World Wide Web into a single body of knowledge, and what makes the Web unique. They are the mainstay of the Internet and indispensable to its convenient access to the vast world of information. They often are used in ways that do a great deal to promote the free exchange of ideas and information that is a central value of our nation. Anything that would impose strict liability on a website operator for the entire contents of any website to which the operator linked therefore would raise grave constitutional concerns, as website operators would be inhibited from linking for fear of exposure to liability. And it is equally clear that exposing those who use links to liability ... might chill their use, as some website operators ... may be more inclined to remove the allegedly offending link rather than test the issue in court.
However, some courts have cautioned that not all acts of linking are legally
permissible. To illustrate, some courts have ruled that linking to sites that contain
material constituting a copyright infringement will make the linking site guilty
Also, the legal status of the common practice of “deep linking” (linking to an interior page on another website) has not yet been adequately addressed by the courts, so websites should avoid deep linking unless they obtain permission from the other website owner.
Miscellaneous issues. There are other legal concerns associated with the establishment and maintenance of church websites having nothing to do with copyright law. These concerns, which are beyond the scope of these guidelines, include the selection and protection of domain names, defamation, and trademark infringement.
While we need to address these technical issues it would be anticipated that only professionals would be building the website and linking the site, and would be aware of any need to address these issues.
YouTube videos. Many church websites and social media sites incorporate YouTube videos. If the videos are created by the church and contain no copyrighted material that is being used without authorization from the copyright owner, this generally is permissible.
However, many churches display YouTube videos from other sources. There are two ways that this is done: linking and embedding. As noted above, linking generally is not copyright infringement, except perhaps if the linking site knows or has reason to believe that the linked site contains infringing material.
Embedding is similar to linking in the sense that a YouTube video is displayed. With linking, the video is displayed directly on YouTube rather than on your website, so it is difficult to say that a “copy” is being made. Embedding is different in the sense that the video is displayed directly on your website. Does this difference expose a church to a greater risk of copyright infringement? That is a question that has yet to be resolved by the courts. In the meantime, there are steps that churches can take to reduce the risk of copyright infringement when embedding YouTube videos on their website. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Do not embed on your website a YouTube video that likely infringes on the
copyright of others. For example, do not embed a YouTube video containing
lengthy excerpts of a movie or television program.
- Some YouTube video providers allow embedding under certain conditions. Use
these videos whenever possible.
- Ask the YouTube video provider for permission to embed the video on your
- Go to the original source of the YouTube video you wish to use, and see if any “terms and conditions” are posted that may authorize embedding the video on other
websites. A copy of these Terms and Conditions will be kept if posted.
- Link, don’t embed. Linking to a YouTube video is less likely to cause copyright problems.
- Seek the advice of an intellectual property attorney.
United Methodist Church of Green Valley Policy: You Tube Videos. United Methodist Church of Green Valley may create its own YouTube channel to post videos or share videos.
Should United Methodist Church of Green Valley website and social media sites incorporate videos, they will then link to its YouTube channel. If the videos are created by United Methodist Church of Green Valley and its organizations and contain no copyrighted material that is being used without authorization from the copyright owner, this generally is permissible.
However, since many churches display YouTube videos from other sources, it is recommended that whenever possible United Methodist Church of Green Valley links rather than embeds video. Linking generally is not copyright infringement, except perhaps if the linking site knows or has reason to believe that the linked site contains infringing material. With linking, the video is displayed directly on YouTube rather than on your website, so it is difficult to say that a “copy” is being made.
Embedding is similar to linking in the sense that a YouTube video is displayed. Embedding is different in the sense that the video is displayed directly on your website.
United Methodist Church of Green Valley will not embed a YouTube video on its website that likely infringes on the copyright of others. For example, do not embed a YouTube video containing lengthy excerpts of a movie, Bible study or education series.
Some YouTube video providers allow embedding under certain conditions. Use these videos whenever possible.
Ask the YouTube video provider for permission to embed the video on your
website. United Methodist Church of Green Valley shall keep a copy of this permission on file.
UMC of GV will go the original source of the YouTube video you wish to use, and see if any “Terms and Conditions” are posted that may authorize embedding the video on other websites. A copy of these Terms and Conditions will be kept on file if posted.
UMC of GV will link, not embed. Linking to a YouTube video is less likely to cause copyright problems.
When necessary or in doubt, UMC of GV will seek the advice of an intellectual property attorney.
FINAL DRAFT - 03/21/17