Diocese creates safe environment social media policy

New social communications initiative offers parishes and ministers guidelines for online sharing

ALLOUEZ — Social media is the place to be when connecting with youth. However, some parishes and youth ministers may find themselves confused or unsure with what details they can include about youth. Thanks to the new Safe Environment social communications policy being implemented by the Diocese of Green Bay, this confusion will soon be a distant memory.

“The Safe Environment social communications policy was created as a response to an audit,” said Matthew Livingstone, Social Communications director for the diocese. “Beyond that, it was a need that we’re hearing from parishes. They wanted some guidance on how to do social media in general.”

Following the 2014 audit, a policy was composed and approved in 2016. With the assistance of the new Safe Environment coordinator, Deacon Dan Wagnitz, the policy was revised, streamlined and clarified for better understanding. Since its final approval, the policy is currently being implemented across the diocese, with hopes for full implementation set for the fall 2017 academic year.

“What this policy does is it gives us guidelines in how we enter into the world of digital communication, making sure that we have in mind all the protections we need in place for safe environment,” said Deacon Wagnitz. “Obviously, people understand that digital communications is an effective way of keeping people current with what’s happening in the programs. It’s important that we do that, keeping in mind we want to protect everybody involved.”

Feedback from parishes and youth ministers has been rolling in, and Livingstone said he understands the difficulty of implementing a policy like this. “We were going from social communications culture within parishes, within schools, within the entire diocese that had a lot of license, to now where there are very solid guidelines and rules in place,” he said. “Going from nothing to something was a big jump. It was a big change.

“The core of what this policy does is gives us guidelines and direction that we can create safe environments in digital spaces,” Livingstone said. “The things that we do to protect minors and vulnerable adults in real spaces can now be done in virtual spaces.”

One of the guidelines includes receiving permission to post personal information. “Clergy, employees, and volunteers must obtain parental or guardian permission to photograph, videotape or otherwise record, copy or distribute any personally identifiable information,” it states.

The policy also states, “All ministry representatives must agree to all communication between themselves and any unrelated minor or individual at risk is open to review, and each parish, school or organization must retain consent for this on their premises.”

While the transition may be difficult, Livingstone said the policy will ultimately be good for the diocese. “Anything that protects minors and vulnerable adults and extends that to the digital space is a positive thing for the church,” he said. “It gives them the protection of that safe space. That’s a very good thing.”

Find the full policy in Spanish and English at www.gbdioc.org/protectingourchildren/social-communication-policy.html.