Neil MacCarthy points out an example of a post on Facebook which reflects Catholic values and is safe for your personal profile. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Catholic tips to safe social media

  • February 22, 2013

TORONTO - When establishing or editing a personal profile online, consulting your inner Catholic can keep you out of trouble.

“Online platforms are an extension of our own personalities so my advice would be to consider anything posted online, whether it be a photo, comment or story, as something you’d be wiling to share with your friends, your mom and your parish priest,” said Neil MacCarthy, director of public relations and communications for the archdiocese of Toronto. “Faith, charity and love should be in the forefront of anything we post.”

But even before one considers whether or not to make a particular post, MacCarthy said you must first determine why your online presence exists. In other words, before considering the tone of your online voice you should establish who your audience is.

“For some, it’s to promote a business or product, for others it’s a corporate page that highlights their work day-to-day and for others it’s more of a social network,” he said. “Depending on the profile the content will be impacted accordingly.”

Expressions of gratitude or appreciation towards others for acts of kindness, praising leadership and sharing professional articles or photos that help tell a compelling story in an interesting way are examples of safe posts, said MacCarthy, regardless of the intention of the profile. Things he said to avoid include everything that can be conveyed as belittling, destructive or malicious comments which do not engage intelligent conversation.

It is when our personal profiles become intertwined with our professional ones that problems tend to occur, he said.

“If you have a Facebook page that talks about your work in the bank, a debate on faith and politics is going to be polarizing,” said MacCarthy.

“Unless it’s related to your work, those discussions are best left for personal pages, recognizing that they will likely prompt strong opinions from all sides in that forum as well.”

You should also consider the impact a personal profile can have when job hunting in the future.

“If I’m interviewing someone for a job, after reviewing their resume, it’s not uncommon to Google their name,” said McCarthy. “That can help or hinder your career. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn about someone before they even walk into a job interview.”

That’s a common step in the employment process, said Andrew Clement, a faculty of information professor at the University of Toronto.

“Employers using material from social networking sites is a common practice, and likely illegal, at least in spirit, in that it is being used for purposes other than intended by the data subject,” said Clement. “Given current business models and habits, it is exceedingly difficult in practice for individuals to maintain privacy.”

By privacy Clement is referring to effective control over the access to and distribution of personal information.

Even material that’s been removed from your profile may still appear in Google. While the mentality that online is forever may be a slight misconception, it isn’t completely farfetched.

“Once information is posted to a social networking site, it is very difficult to keep access to it to those one would prefer, or else delete it and assure that it is gone,” said Clement. “It is possible technically to be able to share personal information with friends and social acquaintances without losing one’s privacy, but this is not in the interest of those providing the infrastructure and making money off it.”

The simple solution is for individuals to be more careful when deciding what material to attach to their personal online profile by remaining mindful of the potential audience.

But that’s something many people simply don’t consider, said MacCarthy.

“The biggest misconception out there for people is that they feel as though their posts, wherever they may be, will only be seen by their ‘friend’ or those they wish to see it, as if it’s a private conversation,” said MacCarthy. “You need to treat every post that goes out there in cyberspace as the potential for a headline on the front page of a newspaper.”

While MacCarthy said it is important to review the privacy policy associated with each social media web site you subscribe to and post accordingly, establishing your own personal guidelines and adhering to them is the best practice.

“It’s not a bad idea for people to have their own internal comment policy both about what they post and what is acceptable on their own page coming from others,” he said. “Hopefully the profile of a Catholic on any social media tool is a reflection of who they really are, not a manufactured page of what someone else would like them to be … (but) responsible use of social media should be something that we all embrace. The Catholic element is unique to us but the general rules of thumb should apply to everyone.”


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