During my board of ordained ministry final interview, we spent 50 minutes talking theology and ethics and ministry…and 10 minutes talking about this blog and facebook and concerns over clergy not being prudent over what they post online. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but having made the front page of UMC.org, it was clear that there were a lot of eyes on what this clergy was writing and they wanted to make sure I had reflected on it.
There’s been a lot of concern over facebook and online personas recently. I know that there are really bad horror stories out there of people whose lives have been negatively affected by online jerks. Early in my blog’s history, in fact, I had a threatening message left on my church answering machine by a disgruntled blog reader (good times!). It’s relatively easy to search for my name, bring up my church website, and call the office number. Heck even UMC.org posted my picture from my local church website instead of my publically-produced blogger one! So breaches in the digital/analog divide happen with varying amounts of drama.
So I can understand why clergy would want to limit what they post online or write pseudonymously (under an altar-ego or online “nickname”). I did that for 5 years, running an online religion forum under a pseudonym. In doing so, I did learn a lot about how to articulate my message clearly, navigate the online waters, and handle trolls more effectively…without worrying about it affecting my real-life career and family. So I get it and encourage it if that’s where you are in online interactions.
However, as you can see, I write now as my own name. Am I older and more assured in my views and life choices? Certainly. But more than that, I felt it was better to be transparent than continue to write under a nickname. A dear pastoral friend T.L. told me “anything you write you should be able to say to your bishop’s face.” I hope I hold to that standard always. Although I *do* miss my old days of raging without a care for retribution (it was therapeutic), I’m able to channel the rage into channels now…sometimes.
But here’s the issue–Some pastors have taken to having a “real persona” and a “church persona”: ie. two facebook accounts, one for their family and friends (Jeremy), and one for their “professional” life (Pastor Jeremy). While it can be useful for some people, I think it neglects to use Facebook to its full advantage.
I’ll have a full write-up of this eventually (or steal someone else’s), but here’s my process of using facebook with one account that keeps my blog readers, parishioners (especially youth!), and close friends separate but interacting.
- I consider my statuses to be my most publically private (not an oxymoron!) thoughts. Thus, if i want to merge online identities, there has to be a way to have everyone together but keep the statuses private.
- I make three friends lists: Limited Profile, Safe Profile, and Full Profile.
- Under privacy, I set these groups to have different levels of access.
- People I meet online or know from church, I add them to my Limited Profile. People here can only see my information, but not my wall (any posted links, pics, tags, etc). It is essentially a static page with my interests and that’s it.
- As I get to know them, I graduate them to my Safe Profile and allow them to see my posted links for discussion. I don’t consider those as private and I don’t mind linking to controversial topics to spur discussion.
- Eventually, I graduate them to Full Profile where they can see my entire wall and everything. Am I taking a risk? Sure. But
Since setting up this last year, there’s been some tweaks. My parishioners and youth are put in a “Parishioner Profile” and they can see my pics but not anything else (I need professional distance but my pics help make me more real to them). Blog friends who obviously just friend me as blog readers get a “HX Profile” designation that is like the Limited Profile, but my wall is only my blog posts (neat huh! Use BlogNetworks as the feed!).
“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
I disagree that having two identities is a lack of integrity, but I do think it is inefficient. Hopefully I’ve outlined how Facebook can be used to merge online identities while keeping a reasonable understanding of privacy. I know for some contexts this is impossible, but if you can the merging helps keep a sense of integrity or at least consistency in thought and word.
It is evident from my BOM meeting that perhaps all pastors need a session on how to use Facebook and blogging? Perhaps all we need is a bit less fear and prohibitions, and more literacy and technological savvy. This is an important tool for ministry, people! And there’s a great wealth of Methobloggers that could easily lead workshops at district events to help out. Maybe we can all put together a “best practices” thing for specifically Methodist pastors?
Anywho, those are my thoughts on multiple identities online. They are reflective of my own experience, not critical of yours. Thoughts?