Recently, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued some protocols (PDF) for bishops, members of religious communities and all Church officials for the proper use of social networking sites. They contain good advice, which basically boils down to one maxim:
Don’t do anything online you wouldn’t do in person.
Really, it is that simple, although putting it into practice seems to be difficult for many people.
They also remind Catholics that real, live communication has priority over Internet communication, and if we overemphasis the latter at the expense of the former, we will be forgetting some very important people:
Great care must be taken by all Church entities, particularly those engaged in Youth Ministry, not to rely exclusively on social networking as a means of communication. To do this could be to exclude the poor – those who cannot afford a computer, who live in remote localities with poor internet connectivity, who struggle with illiteracy or who face other challenges which place them outside of the online world. Going to Church and hearing others talk about their social networking experiences can be profoundly isolating for those unable to take part. Social networking should only ever be one of a range of communication methods that we use to invite people into closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
This is a good reminder to those of us for whom modern technology has become second-nature. Not everyone can access the Internet with the ease in which most of us can, and we cannot forget that the Good News must be preached to them just as much as everyone with a Twitter account.
For my own Rules for using the Internet, click here.