6 Reasons Your Church Needs a Social Media PolicyCategory | Risk Management
Social media offers substantial value to your ministry, letting you communicate and connect with your congregation; however, misuse can damage a church’s reputation and even put it at risk of litigation. Here are six risks churches face with social media:
1. Inappropriate communication with minors
Tragically, sexual misconduct involving minors is reported to be the number one reason for church litigation, according to church law expert Richard Hammar. Help protect children and teens, as well as your ministry, by discouraging one-on-one communication between adults and minors through social media, texting, or emailing. Always include parents/guardians in communications involving minors.
2. Litigation discovery
Social media accounts are increasingly being made available for search by legal teams. Think carefully before posting. In the event of a future lawsuit, the words could be used against you.
3. Personally identifiable information
Church websites and Facebook pages often share children’s personally identifiable information, exposing them not only to predators, but also to non-custodial parents who may try to contact their children against court orders. Make it your policy never to post birth dates, phone numbers, email addresses, or school names online. In addition, always obtain written permission from individuals before posting their photograph and written permission from parents/guardians before posting photos of children or teens.
4. Confidentiality and defamation
Check before posting something that might be confidential. A classic, well-intentioned mistake is posting the prayer needs of named individuals. Avoid any disclosure of private facts about people or situations unless you have permission.
In the event of an internal church dispute, be aware that disparaging comments about individuals posted online may be considered defamation and put the church at risk for a lawsuit.
5. Copyright violation
It is against the law to post articles, photos, music, or other copyrighted materials without obtaining permission. A common misconception is that simply giving credit to the author is enough. It’s not. Before you post copyrighted material, whether a sermon from a visiting speaker or a video of your worship service containing copyrighted music, you must obtain authorization. Some churches hold licenses for use of the material; others seek permission directly from the copyright owner.
6. Employer liability
In many states it is now illegal for employers to take adverse employment action against employees for posting disparaging statements against the company or its leaders on their personal social media accounts, unless doing so violates a policy agreed to upon employment. As employers, this applies to churches and nonprofits. Avoid liability by having a written social media policy with stated consequences for violations.
- Document all current and intended use by staff and employees.
- Implement safeguards. Top ones include requiring disclaimers on employees’ personal accounts; permission for the use of photos, videos, and copyrighted material; and protection of confidentiality.
- Train employees and volunteers on proper and improper use.
- Keep an eye on your church website and the social media posts of others.
Because this is a dynamic issue, it is recommended to seek legal counsel for any questions or issues you may encounter.
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