Over the past year I have been asked to help to put together a social media presence for several local churches and even the Diocese. I have also met many who have been cautious or openly hostile to the idea of a social media presence for their church. This has often been prefaced with the immortal words “I don’t do computers” or “I don’t get all that”. What is often cited as their clinching proof of the evils of social media is cyber bullying or “trolling”.
Yesterday I read an article written by Leo Traynor about his real life experience of being “trolled” on twitter. Leo managed to discover who the troll was and then a process of restorative justice ensued. It is well worth a read if you have five minutes.
Personally I was the victim of a troll around five years ago. I was a teacher and had just started at a new school covering maternity leave. One morning I started to get some strange comments from the pupils. After the second lesson two young ladies asked me if I was on Bebo? With a little careful questioning, I was then armed with enough information to spend my free period working out what was going on.
One of the year ten pupils had set up a fake account in my name using a photo from flickr. This in itself wasn’t so bad – I put the photo on flickr so I clearly wanted the world to see it. However, he was then using the fake account as a focus of his rage – which escalated unbeknown to me over a few weeks until he started to issue death threats. Just one short email to Bebo and a five minute conversation with the head teacher and he was suspended from both Bebo and the school (head’s decision) and I found myself having a mediated conversation with the troll.
As I read Leo’s account of his experience of meeting his troll I suddenly found myself remembering the emotions I went through. The fear of my new job being impacted upon by something I didn’t even know if I could control. It felt like Pandora’s Box had been opened and I didn’t know if I could shut the lid. This was the real life implications of the virtual world.
Social media has moved on a long way since then. The controls and privacy settings surrounding a Church Facebook page or a twitter account leave little scope for trolling. I have deleted things people have said. I have blocked people. I’ve had a quiet word with friends who are going to get themselves in trouble with the content that they are posting.
Social media is a morally neutral space. It can be used for whatever people choose to do with it. The Archbishop of York uses it to spread the gospel. The EDL use it to spread hatred. The question is, ‘how do we use it as Christians’?
What are your experiences? Have you had problems with a social media presence for your church or community? Have you had such negative experiences that you wouldn’t use social media for your church?