Mark Zuckerberg’s trip to Capitol Hill this month shined the spotlight on Facebook’s privacy holes and breaches and the devastating impact on an estimated 87 million users and their private information. How does this affect churches and their online social profiles?
Most churches today have an active online presence and many have been experimenting with streaming their services through Facebook Live, in addition to featuring their events and activities on their Facebook page. Churches face a unique array of legal concerns when it comes to social media, and so they must carefully examine what they post online and establish clear and comprehensive privacy and copyright policies.
As we have recently explored, there are serious advantages to posting photos, music and other materials on your own website vs. platforms like Facebook. One of the vital benefits of publishing on your own website is the ability to control and maintain privacy on behalf of your congregants and visitors. Privacy policies are particularly important for churches and religious organizations.
ChurchWest Insurance Services provides a free sample social media policy, which details the critical nature of respecting the privacy and confidentiality.
In an extreme example, a court case in Oklahoma involving a church and a Muslim convert recently raised a red flag and should have church leaders around the country reexamining what they post online and through social media. According to a Muslim convert to Christianity, he asked a Tulsa church pastor to baptize him but warned the rite had to be kept private because he still had family in Syria and shari‘ah law demands that converts from Islam be executed. Despite their assurances that his baptism and conversion would remain private, the FPC published an announcement of his baptism complete with his name and the date of his baptism on the Internet for distribution to and viewing by the entire world, including, but not limited to, the entire radical element of the Muslim world.
The man traveled to Syria right after being baptized, where he was confronted by radical Muslims who told him they’d read about his conversion to Christianity on the Internet. The accusers tied and blindfolded him and told him they were going to carry out the death sentence. He was bound, beaten, and tortured.
This is certainly a severe and tragic illustration of the powerful impact information being shared online can have on individuals, but it underscores the fact that churches must be educated on these matters. Just as most churches have created best practices for handling and protecting children from abuse, they need to get ahead of this issue in the social media arena.
Here are five reasons churches should develop and enforce social media policies:
RESPECT. Using social media is a great opportunity to be a positive influence and share uplifting messages. Respect is the key to any material published online, whether it is on a blog, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Please respect all audiences, even those you disagree with. When it comes to posting online, emotions can run high, so remember the “Golden Rule” and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Also, respect the rights of others by obtaining permission or licensing to post copyrighted material, and getting permission before posting photos of anyone.
PRIVACY. Churches are aware of privacy and confidentiality issues for members and visitors, but the Internet opens up a broad platform that demands greater awareness. Churches need a process to clearly communicate when a privacy issue is alerted. They need one point person that makes sure that request is handled properly. Churches need to post a media disclaimer throughout their facilities that include any media that might be produced from the event.
RISK AND LIABILITIES. Churches face a broad spectrum of Internet risks, including:
- Computer viruses
- Intellectual properties – illegal use of trademarks and copyrights
- Invasion of privacy – consent and release forms, prayer requests
- Discussion boards – leading to defamation of character
- Network security
- Wrongful conduct of employees
PROTECT YOUR CHURCH’S REPUTATION. Be mindful and careful about who you allow to associate with your church or ministry. That means their personal social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.) needs to reflect your social media guidelines. Even personal emails can be a risk for your ministry. You may want to authorize a staff member to review and approve all material before posting to your website and social media accounts. This person acts as a gatekeeper for all Internet activity. It is wise to include a disclaimer on your Internet pages.
COPYRIGHT LICENSING. Music, photographs, and literary works are often posted on church websites and Facebook pages. These works are usually copyrighted, and often require specific licensing for streaming or posting them online. A church has great visibility and vulnerability online, and it is easy for copyright owners to find infringements of their works on the Internet. Copyright owners may charge expensive fines for infringement, or possibly sue for damages. There are music streaming licenses available, like CCS’s WORSHIPcast License, that allows churches to stream songs on their websites.
There is an abundance of resources available online to help your church navigate these issues.The following are just a few articles we recommend: Internet Liabilities Made Simple, These Are Social Media Legal Issues Your Church Needs to Know, and The Sneaky Ways Google Knows Everything About You, Platform Responsibility Starts with Facebook – but All of Silicon Valley Must Step Up. Considering the wide array of legal, security, and liability churches face today, it would be prudent for churches to obtain network security and legal counsel.
Susan Fontaine Godwin is CCS’s Founder/CVO, an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with more than 33 years of experience in the Christian media industry, church copyright administration and copyright management. Susan is an author and speaker and frequently writes for several Christian magazines and online publications. She serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Mobile.
About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.” CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration, and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.