Today, we live in a world of instant communication and much time is spent using social media and social networking sites. What is imperative for us to understand is that Social Networks are not toys to be played with, but tools that can influence minds and hearts. We must recognize that we are accountable for information whether it’s a re-tweet or a forward on social media, even if it originated from someone else. We are called to raise doubts, ask questions, and knock down rumours and superstitious religious mumbo jumbo that circulates online. It is important for us, as people of faith, to embrace this digital technology and evangelize through these digital platforms; however, while embracing and entering boldly into this world of social media it is important that we follow certain guidelines that ensure that we become authentic communicators of the Good News.
Traditional ethics still apply online. No plagiarism, no personal or derogatory information, maintain political correctness and accuracy. Use the yardstick: is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?
Everything you publish online will become public. Be prudent about any statement that could be turned into ‘dirty linen’ in the public domain. Also, deleting a post does not ensure its removal from the Web. Assume that anything posted will be available in perpetuity.
Use social media to engage with readers, but do so professionally. Be aware that reposting on Twitter (“re-tweeting”), forwarding on WhatsApp groups, and updates from other sources may be viewed as an implicit endorsement of a specific viewpoint or fact. As such, we must apply the same standards of fairness and verification before we share, as information, the views, opinions and ‘facts’ on any forum.  ‘Forwarding as received’does not absolve us of our responsibility, for in doing so we may inadvertently endorse an opinion that proliferates misinformation.
Verify, verify, verify!Just because it has appeared in print or you found it online does not make it true.  Verify the data before passing it forward. One of the features of the technological revolution is that practically anyone can create ‘information’ and disseminate it. This raises serious issues of fake-identities (of the author), questionable authenticity of the content, and ideological perspectives camouflaged as ‘official’ views. This often leads to people jumping to quick conclusions based on partial and biased information. This is why it is absolutely essential to independently authenticate anything found on a social networking site.
Spread Good News. Emphasise the positive and highlight activities that show Christian faith in action.
Be accurate. Make sure you have all the facts before you post. On social media all posts are open to comment, unless the settings indicate otherwise.  Comments give rise, in some cases, to questions / statements / conversations that require monitoring/rejoinders.  Being cautious will help to avoid embarrassing situations.
Think before you post. There’s no such thing as a “private” social media site. Search engines can turn up posts years after the publication date. Comments can be forwarded or copied. Archival systems save information even if you delete a post. If you feel angry or passionate about a subject, it’s wise to delay posting until you are calm and clearheaded.
Break the chain. Emails and FB shares that question faith (‘If you believe… we dare you to share…), or threaten dire consequences if not shared, or profess sentiments that are counterproductive to genuine religious belief should be nipped in the bud.  Do not share!
Be vigilant. Make sure to monitor your page/ profile often for offensive or frivolous posts, and respond to comments as promptly as possible. Remember this is an open forum. Use discretion and good judgment in responding to and monitoring feedback and comments.
Here’s a Rule of thumb: You should conduct yourself in social media forums with an eye on how your behaviour or comments might appear if you were called upon to defend them. In other words, don’t behave any differently online than you would in any other public setting.
Favour Judgment over Speed: Often speed is more sought after than accuracy; while you might want to be the first to post, make sure you have got it right before you do.
These might sound like a whole of dos and don’ts but let that not deter you!  The evangelists, apostles, early Christians and saints had to communicate by word of mouth in front of an audience or use ink on papyrus, which was then carried forward many miles on foot.  And still their communications reached to the ends of the earth and through 2000 years in time! Think of how your communication will impact the world, given that it travels round the globe in real time to a captive audience, with all the advantages of multimedia at your fingertips.
May the Good News be your reason, and sharing the love of God your goal.
Fr. Nigel Barrett is the Spokesperson and Director of Communication, Archdiocese of Bombay. He also holds a Phd in communication from Trinity College, Dublin
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