Social Media Best Practices #2 – Personal… | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
April 2011

Social Media Best Practices #2 – Personal Information

By Chris Wilterdink

The social media landscape allows us to share as much or as little information as we wish, including our contact information, names of family, important dates, even our location in real time!

Young people often take the stance of ‘more is better’ in terms of information they share – choosing to filter very little of their online presence. This can lead to several complications:

Perceived Closeness by Strangers – If a stranger wanted to make it appear that they know a young person, a quick survey of that young person’s profiles across social media outlets, or even your church’s website or newsletter, can give them enough information to begin conversations or encourage a young person to accept them as a friend in online settings. The most effective guard against this danger is effective use of privacy settings – only approving known friends or family members to see your contact personal information.

Your Location – A concern for both young people and those who work with young people. Location based services like foursquare can give away your location, and that information can be used or abused by others. Yes, stalkers immediately come to mind when mentioning this information – but other complications can arise as well. If a youth knows a public location where they an find their youth worker, few if any of a church’s Safe Sanctuary safeguards will be in affect. Likewise, if a confrontation needs to take place revealing one’s location could allow them to be caught off guard by a parent or other church member. Even twitter can be used in this way depending on the 140 characters you share!

Church Publications – Church newsletters and bulletins can unwittingly be a place where identity theft can happen because of the nature of information shared. Often, names of family members, phone numbers, email addresses, and even birthdays appear innocently as parts of prayer requests or celebrations. The same information can be found on a church’s website or facebook account. This information could be used in illegal ways, if a person gathered enough information on one individual.

Surprise Connections – In 1951 a film entitles ‘When Worlds Collide’ shows the panic and stress that ensue as a newly formed star planet are set to collide with Earth. The same feelings of stress and panic can arise when worlds of those who work with young people collide. Youth group members, youth parents, college friends, colleagues, church members, and more can all be connected to you via Facebook. While you can control what you post, you cannot control the postings of others. Imagine the questions a youth worker might get asked if an old college friend of theirs starts posting and tagging old college photos! This phenomenon can also extend to video services like YouTube – when you are signed in as a member to YouTube, you create a watching history that others can find and view – potential for more interesting conversations depending on a person’s viewing history!

Churches, and those who work with young people, need to pay special attention to the information they share through social networking sites and their own internal publications. Information is power, and organizations should be the good stewards of the information given to them.

Chris serves as Director of Young People’s Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Chris has a BA in English Education, and an MS in Project Management, and over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. He is passionate about leadership and faith development in young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. A Stephen Minister, Chris is a native of Colorado living in Franklin, TN with his wife Emily, 2 children, and sausage-shaped beagle.