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March 8, 2011

Can Social Media Get a Church Sued?

Recent Twitter mishap in Indiana underscores the need for clear policy

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Recent incidents involving alleged misuses of social media in both the public and private sectors have government officials and business executives scrambling to implement social media policies for employees.

Church leaders should take the opportunity to do the same before a situation arises, casting negative light on their congregations, or worse, landing them in court.

Indiana's deputy attorney general was fired after making controversial remarks through his personal Twitter account and blog, according to a USA Today article (The Nonprofit Quarterly also blogged about it last week). Jeff Cox "tweeted 'use live ammunition' in response to a Mother Jones tweet that riot police had been ordered to remove union supporters from the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison," the USA Today article explains.

The article continues:

"Corbin, the attorney general's spokesman, said the agency has no formal rules on social media but is developing them. He said the employee handbook, however, is clear that employees should conduct themselves in a professional manner during and after working hours."

A few days later, Inc. magazine's website published "How to Avoid a Social Media Lawsuit," which includes links to resources and books that can help organizations craft effective social media-use policies. Some of the more notable liabilities, according to Inc., include:

  • Copyright/Trademark
  • FTC Advertising and Full Disclosure
  • Privacy
  • Illegal Development

What's the takeaway for church leaders?

"If your staff is going to talk about anything work-related on any webpage, that posting may create problems for your church, and, in some cases, a liability for your church," writes Frank Sommerville in "Can Social Networking Get Us Sued?" "The best way to avoid liability for staff members' postings to social media is to require them to agree that all postings will comply with the church's terms and conditions for social networking by its staff members."

Sommerville's article is included in "Using Social Media Safely," a downloadable training resource on ChurchSafety.com that includes help with forming a use policy for church staff.

Matt Branaugh is director of editorial for Christianity Today International’s Church Management Team, which means he leads a great group of editors and designers who create print and electronic resources that help churches stay safe, legal, and financially sound. He also edits the <emChurch Law & Tax Report and Church Finance Today newsletters.

Related Tags: Communication, computers, Facebook, Law, lawsuits, liability, social media, technology, Twitter, websites

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