We live in a time of unprecedented digital technology. Just 30 years ago, the Internet was beginning to be more than a novelty and companies were moving quickly to establish an Internet presence. But now, is there anyone who doesn’t use or have access to some form of social media? The choices are seemingly endless—Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, LinkedIn and many more.
Awareness of the pitfalls of social media
There is no doubt that social media has had a huge impact on the culture around us, but there is also a downside to the wide reach of social media. While the Internet can seem like a big safe place of anonymity, the reality is that it is not, and especially so when it comes to employers and hiring.
One of the more viral stories along this line happened in 2018. A very talented young lady had landed an internship with NASA. In her excitement, she posted a profanity-laced message on Twitter. A follower cautioned her to check her language, and she replied to him in a very vulgar way. What she never stopped to consider was who this person was. He was a prominent member of the team with which she would be working at NASA. In fact, he now leads the organization that oversees the space agency. While he didn’t orchestrate her loss of the internship, others who saw the post did see to it that she never interned for the organization.
Her story is not an isolated incident. Employers increasingly monitor their employees’ online presence. Jobs have been lost due to vulgar postings, photos of raucous partying, inappropriate behavior and more. Friends have “unfriended” other friends online and in life because of things said or of events posted online. Reputations have been destroyed due to behavior seen online that is incompatible with who and what a person says they are.
People with nefarious intent
Also present on the Internet are opportunists and people with illicit motives. Most people have learned not to post their vacation plans on Facebook by now, but for a number of years people did so because they wanted to share their happy news. Criminals quickly learned to mine this type of information to know which houses would be empty and unprotected so they could rob them. Others learned how easy it was to sell shoddy merchandise online and then disappear.
People with violent or perverted intent search for people to take advantage of who are vulnerable, lonely or don’t have a network of family or friends to watch out for them.
Cautions for brethren
The United Church of God is not immune to the negative aspects of this modern technology. In addition to the above cautions, we recognize that our young people can be quite vulnerable in this online world. Back in 2014 the UYC camp directors established a policy to address the concerns of posting pictures online of our young people at the various camps. This was done in part to be in compliance with laws designed to protect minors online. In short, the policy only allows for “closed” Facebook groups created by the UYC directors to feature camp photos, so families, staff and campers could access pictures taken at the different camps while being in compliance with the law and protecting the identity of our young people online. Those photos were not to be “tagged” by the staff with names of the young people and individuals under the age of 13 would not have any picture of them posted to the group page without the family’s permission. It is sad that we needed to make it very difficult for individuals searching online for underage children.
One such law that applies to any website is COPPA: www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/childrens-online-privacy-protection-rule.
This U.S. law imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age. There can be other legal concerns, like a non-custodial parent who wants to check on where the children are, or a person who has a restraining order to protect a Church member.
Permission for posting information about someone else
In principle, the UYC policy could be applied to any Church activity involving any Church member—socials, picnics, dances and other social activities.
Those taking photos and posting them online should make sure that individuals are okay with their picture being posted and/or tagged.
Things to keep in mind
• Be smart about what you post about yourself. You never know who might see your post.
• Be careful (and get permission) before posting pictures or information about others online.
• You have the right to ask for a posting about you or your family to be removed, but do so respectfully.
• Not everyone shares the same political views or humor. As Christians, we should not be involved in promoting politics and we should never use off-color, biting or demeaning humor.
• Nothing is truly private online.
• Nothing every really goes away online.
• Good reputations are hard won, but they can be destroyed with a click of a mouse.
This article is being published simply as a word of caution. The United Church of God does not have a blanket policy to address the concerns addressed here, and does not intend to.
A good reminder of how we should view the online world around us can be found in the book of Proverbs: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3).
The Hebrew word translated “prudent” has the meaning of sensible; the application in the Proverbs is to be wise and/or discreet.
As we navigate the online world around us, let’s remember to be wise in using this technology.