Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Privacy, Trust, and Pastoral Care in the World of Church Social Media

In this post, David Hansen (@rev_david) continues earlier musings about best practices for clergy who use social media.
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I’ve been known to say, "There’s no such thing as privacy anymore." I stand by that.

You can buck against it and may dislike it, but the fact remains: living private, isolated lives is no longer how we live. As communities always have, we learn about one another in the public square but because of the Internet and social media, the public square has grown to an unimaginable size.

So what becomes of pastoral confidentiality in a world where privacy is (mostly) an illusion? Who is responsible for keeping their mouth shut? Who may share information? What can be posted? What crosses the line?

I suggest following these guidelines:

1.      The expectation of privacy resides with the person with the least amount of power/authority. The one confessing, not the confessor should expect confidentiality.
2.      Do not post about situations, even without identifying information, if the connection can be traced to the real-life situation. 
3.   When in doubt, do not post.

An example: Let's say a couple comes to me and we have a conversation in preparation for their wedding. I have no expectation of confidentiality in that conversation. They may talk about our conversation with their friends on Facebook or Twitter. They may even quote advice I gave them or have some fun at my expense. 

However, were I to go home and write a blog post about couples preparing for marriage, that couple might justifiably assume (even without identifying details) I was reflecting on our conversation. If they had talked about it with their friends, their friends might draw the same conclusion. I have violated their right to privacy.

In any sort of pastoral care situation, those receiving pastoral care should expect their concerns, even during times of celebration, to be kept confidential. Always. If they want to talk about our conversation, that’s their prerogative. It’s their information to share, not mine.

This is true for all sorts of relationships that involve an imbalance of power and/or authority. Pastor-parishioner, bishop-pastor, candidate for ministry-denominational leader, teacher-student, etc.

Unclear? Unsure whether you may post something or not? Then, do not post it. When in doubt, do not post. As pastors, we are often present to the most private aspects of people’s lives. Protect that.

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