Electronic communication tools have become extremely important means for parishes and schools to communicate with their parishioners, students, parents and the general public.
While these tools are fun and exciting to use, it is important to remember that they belong to parishes and schools, and not to the individuals that may monitor and maintain them. Just like the content of a bulletin or newsletter, the messages delivered through electronic communication tools come from the parishes and schools. Consequently, parishes and schools are responsible for these messages.
We suggest you keep the following guidelines in mind as you develop and use these tools in your various ministries and operations:
Parishes and schools use a variety of web-based tools to communicate. These tools include, but are not limited to, websites, content-sharing sites (e.g., YouTube), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), blogs and micro-blogs (e.g., Twitter), and other social media sites.
A parish or school must be sure it is aware of and approves of the creation and use of any communication tools that employees or volunteers would like to create in connection with their work.
Additionally, the parish or school must “own” the website, content-sharing site/account, social networking account, blog or other social media site/account.
A parish or school should monitor the content of any websites, content sharing sites/accounts, social networking accounts, blogs or other social media sites/accounts to be sure they do not contain any inappropriate material. Inappropriate material is content that is confidential, proprietary, pornographic, threatening, discriminatory, defamatory, disparaging, or copyright-protected.
While various employees and volunteers may work with or use these tools, it is a good practice to designate one person at the parish or school to review all content and remove inappropriate content from any and all officially authorized electronic communication tools.
Remember, parishes and schools are not obligated to host forums for public discussion on parish or school-owned tools for electronic communication. The person responsible for monitoring these tools can and should remove objectionable content.
If parish or school tools offer “contact us” or comment-posting features, the parish or school should determine who will have the authority and responsibility to respond on behalf of the organization.
Remember, if pictures or audio/video recordings are going to be posted online, the parish or school must make sure that it has obtained proper permission (i.e., written releases) before posting. Similarly, if identifying information about persons is to be posted, the parish or school should receive written permission from such persons before the information can be posted.
Employees and volunteers should not be permitted to post a recording of anything connected to their duties as employees or volunteers unless the parish or school has given permission for the posting and has obtained the appropriate releases.
To the extent parishes and schools can control advertising featured on officially-authorized tools for electronic communication, good judgment should be used in selecting advertisers and approving advertisements.
Respecting Copyright in a Digital World
Copyright laws impact parishes’ and schools’ use of tools for electronic communication. Please remember… just because content is available on the Internet does not mean that the content can be freely used for any purpose.
The development of collaborative web applications, like social networking sites, has created new forums for sharing information. While this is a positive development in many respects, it has also created a virtual soapbox from which individuals can air their grievances. Students and adults may want to vent frustration, post complaints or poke fun at parishes, schools, agencies, staff, students or programs online. In some cases, these communications can rise to the level of threats or bullying.
A common response is to demand that the comment(s) be removed and to take action against the person(s) posting it. However, parishes and schools have very limited control over unfavorable content posted on third-party websites or social networking sites.
In the case of students, the extent to which disciplinary action can and should be taken will depend on the content of the information that has been posted online. Distinctions need to be made between content that is threatening, bullying or otherwise harmful to the student or others, and content that is negative but not otherwise harmful. In all cases, before taking disciplinary action, a school should consult with the Office of Catholic Schools for guidance on how to handle the situation.