"Having two identities is a lack of integrity"

During my board of ordained ministry final interview, we spent 50 minutes talking theology and ethics and ministry...and 10 minutes talking about this blog and facebook and concerns over clergy not being prudent over what they post online.  I hadn't done anything wrong, but having made the front page of UMC.org, it was clear that there were a lot of eyes on what this clergy was writing and they wanted to make sure I had reflected on it.

There's been a lot of concern over facebook and online personas recently.  I know that there are really bad horror stories out there of people whose lives have been negatively affected by online jerks. Early in my blog's history, in fact, I had a threatening message left on my church answering machine by a disgruntled blog reader (good times!).  It's relatively easy to search for my name, bring up my church website, and call the office number.  Heck even UMC.org posted my picture from my local church website instead of my publically-produced blogger one!  So breaches in the digital/analog divide happen with varying amounts of drama.

So I can understand why clergy would want to limit what they post online or write pseudonymously (under an altar-ego or online "nickname"). I did that for 5 years, running an online religion forum under a pseudonym.  In doing so, I did learn a lot about how to articulate my message clearly, navigate the online waters, and handle trolls more effectively...without worrying about it affecting my real-life career and family. So I get it and encourage it if that's where you are in online interactions.

However, as you can see, I write now as my own name.  Am I older and more assured in my views and life choices? Certainly.  But more than that, I felt it was better to be transparent than continue to write under a nickname.  A dear pastoral friend T.L. told me "anything you write you should be able to say to your bishop's face." I hope I hold to that standard always. Although I *do* miss my old days of raging without a care for retribution (it was therapeutic), I'm able to channel the rage into channels now...sometimes.

But here's the issue--Some pastors have taken to having a "real persona" and a "church persona": ie. two facebook accounts, one for their family and friends (Jeremy), and one for their "professional" life (Pastor Jeremy). While it can be useful for some people, I think it neglects to use Facebook to its full advantage.

I'll have a full write-up of this eventually (or steal someone else's), but here's my process of using facebook with one account that keeps my blog readers, parishioners (especially youth!), and close friends separate but interacting.
  1. I consider my statuses to be my most publically private (not an oxymoron!) thoughts.  Thus, if i want to merge online identities, there has to be a way to have everyone together but keep the statuses private.
  2. I make three friends lists: Limited Profile, Safe Profile, and Full Profile.
  3. Under privacy, I set these groups to have different levels of access.
    • People I meet online or know from church, I add them to my Limited Profile.  People here can only see my information, but not my wall (any posted links, pics, tags, etc). It is essentially a static page with my interests and that's it.
    • As I get to know them, I graduate them to my Safe Profile and allow them to see my posted links for discussion.  I don't consider those as private and I don't mind linking to controversial topics to spur discussion.
    • Eventually, I graduate them to Full Profile where they can see my entire wall and everything. Am I taking a risk? Sure. But 
  4. Everyone discusses and I can discuss with them all in one place! Saves time and energy with only a little setup and diligence!
Since setting up this last year, there's been some tweaks. My parishioners and youth are put in a "Parishioner Profile" and they can see my pics but not anything else (I need professional distance but my pics help make me more real to them).  Blog friends who obviously just friend me as blog readers get a "HX Profile" designation that is like the Limited Profile, but my wall is only my blog posts (neat huh! Use BlogNetworks as the feed!).

Blake shared this quote by Facebook CEO Zuckerberg that I think hits at this pretty squarely:
"The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity."
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
I disagree that having two identities is a lack of integrity, but I do think it is inefficient.  Hopefully I've outlined how Facebook can be used to merge online identities while keeping a reasonable understanding of privacy. I know for some contexts this is impossible, but if you can the merging helps keep a sense of integrity or at least consistency in thought and word.

It is evident from my BOM meeting that perhaps all pastors need a session on how to use Facebook and blogging?  Perhaps all we need is a bit less fear and prohibitions, and more literacy and technological savvy. This is an important tool for ministry, people! And there's a great wealth of Methobloggers that could easily lead workshops at district events to help out. Maybe we can all put together a "best practices" thing for specifically Methodist pastors?

Anywho, those are my thoughts on multiple identities online.  They are reflective of my own experience, not critical of yours.  Thoughts?


Rev. Sonja May 21, 2010 at 7:50 AM  

I don't have enough energy to keep up with two people. I get confused enough with the one person that I am. Ha!

Mikie May 21, 2010 at 7:54 AM  

I do something very similar because of my role as a teacher and a youth advisor at church. I like your division of groups better. Mine consists more of groups like "Youth" or "Don't really know." Thanks for this post. I like the approach.

Carolyn May 21, 2010 at 8:28 AM  

There's an e-book you can download for free called Facebook for Pastors. I've sent it to my mother, a UMC Deacon, to help her get started on FB. It's a great tool for teaching an older person how to use FB (what is a status update, how to tag a picture, ect). But unfortunately it was produced and distributed before the last two security crises on FB. There really is no section on privacy, except some outdated instructions for changing privacy settings and a warning not to post absolutely everything that comes to your mind.

We may need a new FB for Pastors now that all the controls are changed, or just Privacy on FB for Pastors.

Ann May 21, 2010 at 8:43 AM  

I've actually been thinking about this a lot as I continue to meet lots of new people and am not sure how much to share about my life. You seem to have a good approach. Now I just need to implement it :) and like Carolyn said, someone (ie YOU) need to write an updated manual!

Jim Olson May 21, 2010 at 9:07 AM  

Good thoughts, Jeremy. I generally do not 'friend' my parishioners until I know them, and anyone under 18 is automatically on the 'limited profile' list. At least in our tradition, it's not the bishop you need to worry about. 'Don't post anything you wouldn't say to a parishioner'. Mine are used to my honesty and opinionated-ness (you'll remember that from class, I suspect.)

Tim May 21, 2010 at 9:18 AM  

Excellent post - Like Ann, I too think a lot about this.

Like you, I used to blog under a nickname and stopped when I started developing friendships through the medium. (It seems funny now, but I underestimated how personal this could get - friends through blogging?? Yep.)

Since linking my blog with FB, I do something similar with the lists but it needs to be rethought (I have more lists but it gets too complicated). Thanks for sharing what you do.

May the Lord give us wisdom.

Anonymous,  May 21, 2010 at 11:24 AM  

One reason I like having 2 separate Facebook profiles is because when I get into the office in the morning I open both my e-mail and my "Pastor Kayla" Facebook and leave them both on all day. My youth and parishioners IM me from Facebook, and I can periodically check my parishioners posts in order to keep up with or respond to any pastoral care needs. Therefore, surfing my "Pastor Kayla" Facebook truly is part of my "work time". But if I were to open up my "Kayla" Facebook, there would be too much temptation to catch up with and read posts and links from friends and family which is not part of my "work time." For these reasons, I prefer to keep 2 separate Facbook profiles.

Rev. Jeremy Smith May 21, 2010 at 11:26 AM  

Just to be clear, I'm not being judgmental on people's choices...do what you want! But for those that want a more streamlined one-profile approach, it is possible and I hope to have a walkthrough soon.

@Kayla, I completely get it. For me, given that many of my friends ARE ministers and in ministry settings, I often get great resources from checking their links and musings. So I consider that to be work time as well.

Anonymous,  May 21, 2010 at 11:51 AM  

At the beginning of this appointment (three years ago) I decided to have one facebook profile for sake of "integrity" and added church folks to a "church list." That was fine for a year. Then, all of the other staff joined facebook and would start discussing information garnered from facebook status update (admission to the hospital or other pastoral care situations!) that I didn't know anything about! Turns out that with 700 "personal" friends my 150 "church" friends were getting lost in the newsfeed and I wasn't seeing the updates I wanted. I know there is a facebook tweak for that (going to my status updates - church list) but it planted the idea in my head that I might be better served to have a professional profile.

The "straw that broke the camel's back" came when I was on vacation in Disney World. A parishioner got my voicemail vacation message and my email auto-reply that I was on vacation and chose to send me a facebook message instead! It began, "I know you're on vacation, but..."

I realized that I did not want to have that avenue to break boundaries available anymore. So, I made a professional profile and have been very happy with it. I don't see it as inefficient since I just add it into my work time - a few minutes here and there on my work facebook account helps me stay in touch with what is going on in the real lives of church members. But I don't sign into that account on days when I am not working. It really helps me balance my time better!

Melissa May 22, 2010 at 7:49 AM  

I've been thinking about this particularly in terms of moving congregtions and at what point does a congregation member-- active or inactive get removed from my friends list? Is continuing to be facebook friends the same as if I were living in the community, but not as their pastor. I'm not sure what I'll do yet and may take it on a case by case situation.

I do have separate groups/lists for different types of people and that has been helpful in deciding what to post/not to post. In the end, I have gone with only posting things that I'm comfortable discussing face to face with someone who asks.

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