The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a set of guidelines for using social media, which is the fastest growing form of communication especially among youth and young adults.

Guidelines for Organizations and Personnel

Click on link to access guidelines on www.usccb.org

Benedict XVI has made it clear that the media age offers a unique opportunity to the Church by facilitating collaboration and communion in ways that were previously unimaginable.

But determining how to engage the media world is no easy task for Church personnel and organizations, suggests a set of guidelines produced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

To address the complexities of the media world, they’ve offered “Social Media Guidelines,” posted this month on the episcopal conference Web site.

The guidelines address Church personnel, but are “offered as a synthesis of best practices,” compiling information from for-profit and non-profit organizations alike.

They are based on the premise that social media “offer both opportunities and challenges to Catholic organizations,” which the guidelines group into three primary categories: visibility, community and accountability.

“Social media are the fastest growing form of communication in the United States, especially among youth and young adults,” the guidelines note. “Our Church cannot ignore it, but at the same time we must engage social media in a manner that is safe, responsible and civil.”

Visibility

Noting that online social media communities are already bigger than the population of the United States, and growing rapidly, the guidelines assert that media “offer excellent forums for the Church’s visibility and evangelization.”

“The key question that faces each church organization that decides to engage social media is, How will we engage?” the guidelines suggest. And they recommend careful consideration to evaluate the strength of each form, and to ensure that the strength matches the need.

“For instance, a blog post may not be the most effective way to remind students of an event,” the guide notes. “However, a mass text message to all students and their parents telling them that the retreat begins at 9 a.m. may be very effective.”

Community and accountability

Regarding community, the guidelines reiterate a point made by the Pope himself in his teaching for World Communication Day.

The guide affirms that “social media interaction should not be viewed as a substitute for face-to-face gatherings.” Instead, the use of social media should encourage true friendship and address the “human longing for meaningful community.”

Since social media aim to build community, the guide continues, a consequence is accountability and responsibility.

The documents says it is important for those who create and administrate these sites to “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,'” it observes, “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.”

Lighting the path

The document offers a range of information, including “Guiding Principles,” “Rules of the Road” and a list of definitions for those entirely or rather new to the field (words like blog, micro-blog and social network are defined).

One element that is recommended: “Remind site administrators they are posting for a broad audience. Social media are global platforms. Online content is visible to anyone in the world who comes to their sites.”

“Do not divulge confidential information about others,” the guide urges. “Nothing posted on the Internet is private.”

Working with youth

The guidelines also address the issue of appropriate dealings with minors, affirming parents need to have access to all material sent to their children.

Parents need to know how social media is being used, the guide affirms, and “be told how to access the sites, and be given the opportunity to be copied on all material sent to their children via social networking — including text messages.”

“Church personnel should be encouraged to save copies of conversations whenever possible,” the guidelines suggest, “especially those that concern the personal sharing of a teen or young adult.”

Eight “rules” range from abiding by diocesan/parish guidelines to knowing that “even personal communication by church personnel reflects the Church. Practice what you preach.”

The guidelines recommend writing in first person, and avoiding a claim to “represent the official position of the organization or the teachings of the Church, unless authorized to do so.”

Finally, the eighth rule recommends, “Practice Christian charity.”

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 22, 2010 (Zenit.org)