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The Department of Communications of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a set of social media guidelines for the use of church personnel, defined as “anyone—priest, deacon, religious, bishop, lay employee, or volunteer—who provides ministry or service or is employed by an entity associated with the Catholic Church.”

The bishops begin by noting that “Social media are the fastest growing form of communication in the United States, especially among youth and young adults. Our Church cannot ignore it.” At the same time, however, “we must engage social media in a manner that is safe, responsible, and civil.”

The document groups the “opportunities and challenges” offered by social media into the three primary categories. These are Visibility , a category that includes evangelization (“How will we engage? Careful consideration should be made to determine the particular strengths of each form of social media . . . and the needs of a ministry, parish, or organization. The strengths should match the needs.”); Community (“A well-considered use of social media has the ultimate goal of encouraging “true friendship” . . . and of addressing the human longing for meaningful community.”); and Accountability (“it is important that creators and site administrators . . . understand how much social media are different from mass media and the expectations of their consumers . . . . Social media’s emphasis is on the word ‘social,’ with a general blurring of the distinction between creators of content and consumers of content. Many communication experts are describing the adaption of social media as a paradigm shift in how humans communicate, a development as important as that of the printing press and the discovery of electronic communication.”).

The document lists not only the elements that church personnel should use when developing local social media guidelines, but also “recommended guidelines for the establishment of . . . . a profile or fan page on a social networking site such as Facebook, a blog, a Twitter account, etc.”

Finally, the document gives special attention to the matter of social networking with minors, reminds church personnel that their personal sites “should also reflect Catholic values,” and explains how to report on and monitor social media (“Ask church personnel to report unofficial sites that carry the diocesan or parish logo to the diocesan communication office or pastor . . . . Inform church personnel whom to contact . . . if they find misinformation on a site. This is especially important when responding to an incorrect wiki . . . ”)

The guidelines are short, direct, and well worth taking the time to read.

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