My initial ponderings on tweeting during Synod. Comments welcome. Please be gentle! A bishop seeking wisdom.
Observation: Some members of our recent Synod used social media during Synod presentations and debates to communicate with people on their networks who may or may not have been members of Synod.
The social media mainly used during Synod was Twitter but could also have included Facebook, blogs and texting.
Context: Synod comprises close to 200 Anglican ordained and lay people who meet annually over 2 days to discuss and debate various issues, set a financial budget and also enact legislation for the Anglican community in Tasmania. The sessions are mainly open to the public, including the media. However when Synod is meeting “in committee” the matters discussed are confidential and no outside communication is permitted. For example, the media may well be asked to leave during those times.
Culture: We have been prayerfully working at developing an open, transparent and caring culture which shows forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which nourishes our life as a healthy church transforming life.
Responses: “Various” responses (what would you expect/we are Anglican!) The responses have varied from “A good use of technology to inform the folk at home, Tasmania, the world” through to “Aah! How rude.” and “What are they saying about us?”
Reasons ‘In Favour’ and ‘Against’:
In Favour of members of Synod using social media during the sitting of Synod:
1. Synod is a public forum and social media allows non-Synod members to know what is going on.
2. Using social media is educational – both members and non-members can learn about the procedures and issues confronting Synod.
3. The use of social media is simply another form of communication between Synod members. After all, Synod members talk at tables during Synod, some pass notes and some even ‘wander around’ occasionally!
Against members of Synod using social media during the sitting of Synod:
1. The negative impact on the effectiveness of Synod participation. If a synod member is using social media during Synod, this reduces their capacity to attend to what is happening at the time.
2. It also raises the question as to which audience a person using social media is addressing. Are they able to address both the Synod of which they are a member and the members of their social media network?
3. The use of social media shows a lack of politeness and respect for other members of Synod. When a Synod member is speaking it is expected that the other members of Synod would give them their due attention. Against this, it is noted that some Synod members are seen reading books or magazines and they are not attending to Synod either. However, this strikes me as a weak argument: just because someone else is doing something impolite, does not make my similar behaviour acceptable.
4. There is a danger of miscommunication. During an ongoing session of Synod any comment on the progress of a debate is by definition partial: it does not give a full picture of the debate. Partial information can be misleading.
5. It is also possible for inaccurate information and misunderstandings to be communicated by social media to people outside of Synod. This could be unfair to particular members of Synod and Synod as a whole because the majority of Synod members are unaware of the information or misinformation being communicated. There is little possibility of correction.
6. Silencing the reticent synod speakers. An unintended social consequence of the use of social media during Synod is that it will inhibit the participation of some Synod members. This inhibition will come about due to the embarrassment that a Synod member may well experience when they make a mistake of fact, emphasis or protocol in their speaking to Synod. In our conservative Anglo-Saxon Tasmanian culture, some people find it difficult to speak in front of a large audience such as Synod. The knowledge that what they are saying is being reported even as they speak by social media is likely to silence some Synod members.
7. Another issue is that some members of Synod will be aware of some of the communications by Synod members using social media but others will not. A key aspect of Synod is that all people have the same access to information to inform their decision making.
8. How is the chairperson of Synod included in the social media information flow/conversations? I would have to say that as President of Synod it would be very difficult to both chair the Synod and be reading Facebook, tweets, texts and blogs!
Relationships are the key to our life together in Christ. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
Technology has the power to both nurture and damage people, therefore we must be wise in its use.
Social Media is an extension of our tongue. James 3:8-10 “No one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with is we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”
a. How are relationships within the whole Body of Christ nurtured?
b. How is a healthy conversation of the Synod as a whole to be gained?
c. What role might social media play in nurturing such a healthy conversation?
What thinketh thee?
Thanks John. I find myself asking more questions as I read this post:
“How much of this would also be reflected in a group of 10 people talking amongst themselves over lunch after a morning of Synod? Or, maybe (phone) calling people over the lunch break?”
“If people are commenting on Twitter/Facebook/blogs, does this reflect a voice that wants to be heard but for some reason cannot? Would we seek to squash that voice further or allow it to be heard and addressed?”
I can’t say I know the answers to these questions. Maybe others do. Personally, I was happy to tweet & FB in the Synod breaks, and I would hope if anyone found any of my posts concerning or offensive in any way that they would love me by clearly exercising the Matthew 18 principle of talking to me.
Thanks for a comprehensive coverage of a complex issue. I suspect there is no single, simple answer – a bit like “Should Christians drink alcohol?” Just personally, I find it discourteous. To Tweet or blog during a break in Synod is one thing, but to do so during the sessions of Synod, I don’t feel is showing respect to other members of the Synod. I have heard the argument that “Gen Y are able to multi-task”, but as a parent of Gen Y (or Gen Z?) teenagers, my experience is that while they may do many things at once, they don’t necessarily do any of them very well!
A conversation between Synod members at a break in the sessions brings to it the details and nuances because all have been there.
Telephone calls to non Synod members during a break may or may give correct information. Certainly we have asked Synod members to relate to the formal media, whether directly or indirectly, through the Synod’s Media Officer. This has served us well over many years and during some very distressing issues.
If people want to be heard they could take up your suggestion of the Matthew 18 principle. One of the limitations of life is ‘time’. Sadly all we want to do or say is not achievable. But is social media the most appropriate avenue to have voices heard in Synod? If, Yes, then how?
An interesting issue.
During Synod people read books, use their laptops, chat to each other quietly, pass notes and as you said, occasionally walk around the room passing messages. I think the question should not be whether or not to have “social media at Synod” but how to manage Synod behaviour-communication in it’s entirety. They’ll always be private conversations during synod that most aren’t privy to, either by written note, a whispered comment or SMS. I think of all the social media, Twitter is the most positive and the most useful; importantly it’s a public conversation and an extension of the public (non-closed) sections of Synod. Over the last couple of years a number of us have contributed to this online public conversation with the common hashtag #TasSynod.
I think the best way forward to is have a code of conduct that speaks to all forms of Synod participation and communication, not just social media. It should be a code of conduct that allows for some movement around the room, some reading of books and some use of social media such as Twitter. The code of conduct could suggest that electronic or verbal comment is only made on bills and ordinances themselves and not the debate or vice versa. This approach acknowledges that Synod participation and communication extends far beyond “social media”. Missionaries based overseas and fellow Anglican living interstate are able to follow the public proceedings of Synod via Twitter in a lively, interesting and informative way. Furthermore “social media” involves younger members of the diocese in participating in the shared work of governing the diocese.
Thanks for raising the issue Bp John!
It certainly raises some issues.
At Synod this year I used my laptop only for the purpose of summarising exactly what was going on and when a vote was cast. This was so I could write an accurate report of proceedings to report back to my Parish. In a sense I see this as no different than others writing hand notes and then writing a report later and the laptop allowed me to accurately capture what occurred in session. Interestingly using it I was not connected to the Internet so the social media issue did not arise.
I am against the use of social media during Synod for many of the points raised about the need to foster face-to-face relationships and discussion amongst people. As it was I felt there was insufficient debate and information at Synod on a number of issues and that there were too many non-Synod issues on the timetable which could have been dealt with at other forums – e.g. Clergy Conference. In a sense I feel this may have contributed to the use of social media – many issues were not debated that were on the Agenda and if we concentrate on ensuring we have sufficient time for debate and discussion on all items then Synod members should be well engaged and focused on those matters. Better planning will assist that for next year.
I am very concerned about information from Synod being shared with those outside whilst Synod is progressing especially given we have agreed and known ways of contacting the media and the facility of “short messages” that Facebook and Twitter provide that often do not allow for relevant context which only a Synod member will know as they will be present for the whole conversation and not just highlight a part – whether it is something they agree with or not.
Hi John Tongue,
I think it is more like the subsequent alcohol questions:
Are there guidelines, even limits, to alcohol consumption and if so, What seta the guidelines? What is ‘healthy consumption’?
I agree that culture is the key and this undergirds all we do and say.
There are particular issues here with communicating to people outside of synod who are therefore not in a position to hear corrections, etc – some of the issues 4. and 5. in ‘Against’, above.
Andrew Koerbin outlines this in his 3rd paragragh, Comment 5 on the blog post.
I agree that Twitter is a public conversation but in practise it is only ‘public’ to those using it. How then can it be shared/public to all synod members while synod is in progress, and in paricular during sessions of synod?
See my comment (No.6) on Luke’s (No.4) re your para 3. (How’s that for convoluted? 🙂 )
Participation is a key and hence the time frame as you mention. I would be interested to hear comment on seating at Synod:
Does the seating at tables help or hinder participation?
I found the tweeting of synod proceedings really useful, as someone who was not part of synod, but will be affected by many decisions. With three small children and full-time work, I don’t have the time to sit in the public gallery for the proceedings. Reporting of synod through mainstream media is often extremely limited (ie, only the sensational issues are reported – not a peep on the TV news about the new “non-parish” modes of doing church!). We also find it difficult to watch TV news due to the need to feed and bathe kids and get them to bed. Twitter / facebook is a useful way to catch up on these sorts of “micronews” items.
That doesn’t answer your questions, John, about the use of social media by members of synod while synod is sitting. I would suspect that many of the arguments against social media use could be sufficiently met if the Synod were to have someone monitor the social media traffic (by following #TasSynod, or by having an official Tas Synod facebook page for commenting). This person or group could then report anything of concern to the synod, and could issue corrections in an immediate and timely manner. This would/could address the concerns at your paras 4, 5, 7 and 8 against. (And incidentally has the potential to report synod more accurately, promptly and completely than using mainstream media).
Someone with this function at synod could also provide the “running commentary” that some members were providing during the last synod, which could free them up. I expect that this would address concerns 1, 2 and 3 to a certain degree.
I would imagine that the remaining concerns about the attention of members of synod, protocols for “in camera” sessions and the like could be adequately addressed in guidelines for members, and guidelines for tweeting in a way reflective of our bonds of love for brothers and sisters in christ.
I read a good book on these issues recently: “The Next Story” by Tim Challies tackles many of the issues presented to Christians by technology.
I think that there is a great opportunity for synod to communicate well with its constituents through social media, and I’d like to see it used more next time around!
I agree Bp John that the “social media” is a tool that reflects the values and expectations of the user’s culture. (You’re right that someone doesn’t need “social media” in order to misrepresent someone else, to be rude or spread inaccurate information.)
However I’m not convinced that the reasons against using “social media”, and Twitter in particular, at Synod outweigh the reasons for using Twitter at Synod. Missionaries, other Anglicans and sympathetic Christians were able to ‘listen into Synod’ so to speak in a way they couldn’t of before this technology became available. The early days of the Internet encouraged anonymity but today transparency and accountability are far more important values. Allowing Twitter at Synod encourages both and says to the wider world, we have nothing to hide, “here we are building God’s Kingdom.” Prohibiting a technology like Twitter sends out the message that the church operates in secrecy, behind closed doors.
Regarding the issue of miscommunication or loss of context, I think these are exaggerated. Ordinary press releases, printed copies of the minutes and verbal reports have all been taken out of context in the past or inaccurately presented. There isn’t strong enough evidence to suggest that use of Twitter for example (I can’t say the same for Facebook) increases the normal level of miscommunication.
I think a healthy way forward would be to have a particular individual appointed by the Bishop to monitor the twitter feed during Synod and release official “Tweets” where appropriate. At the same time a code of conduct could be released that discourages the use of Facebook and private messages, this says “we have nothing to hide but we acknowledge that technology needs boundaries.”
Again, thanks for raising the issue Bp John and thanks for the public engagement, via your blog!
Luke, I think your healthy way forward is looking good :). It makes me wonder whether the use of Twitter/facebook etc is maybe not for those not in Synod but perhaps a kind of “pressure valve” for the members of Synod who feel the need to make such comments – out of boredom, angst, frustration or delight! Technology will no doubt continue to provide new and varied opportunities to share … in this new technology we need to apply old wisdom, such things as “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
Let me start by admitting bias – I am one of the users of social media, and I regularly ‘live’ tweet during events (including Synod both this year and last). When I am tweeting using a hashtag – such as #tassynod or #aflsaintscrows I am seeking to engage in a broader conversation with others about that particular event. I put forward my view of what is happening / has been said and expect others to put their view of the same circumstance – perhaps by agreeing, disagreeing, asking a question, or pushing back to try and extend my view beyond it’s present understanding. In this way, it is a normal conversation, except we are not face to face while we are having it. Others in my network (for example people back in the Parish) are also able to follow the conversation and engage with aspects that they wish to – it has previously occurred that people have started a conversation with me, based on something that I have tweeted during an event – seeking clarification, extension and engagement with the topic at hand.
Another of the bonuses of social media is it is an area that younger members of the Anglican community engage with readily. They can become aware of decisions that are being made and engage with the discussions of Synod through the blogs and online conversations. This is a step that we can take to engage them with the processes of the Anglican church in the hope that as they mature they will seek to be involved on the floor of Synod as well – not just see it as the domain of the clergy and mature members of our Diocese.
On some of the reasons above against using social media:
1. “The negative impact on the effectiveness of Synod participation. If a synod member is using social media during Synod, this reduces their capacity to attend to what is happening at the time.”
I disagree with the premise that tweeting about something means that I am not engaged with it, in fact, I would argue the opposite. I am definitely engaged, and seeking to interact with the topic – and to engage others as well.
2. “It also raises the question as to which audience a person using social media is addressing. Are they able to address both the Synod of which they are a member and the members of their social media network?”
I think one of the ways to engage this idea is to have a live stream of the synod hashtag, not unlike Q&A on ABC does. This would (a) engage synod in the discussion that is happening online and in circumstances where people may not be thinking through their tweets (b) make them think twice before hitting ‘send’
3. “The use of social media shows a lack of politeness and respect for other members of Synod. When a Synod member is speaking it is expected that the other members of Synod would give them their due attention. Against this, it is noted that some Synod members are seen reading books or magazines and they are not attending to Synod either. However, this strikes me as a weak argument: just because someone else is doing something impolite, does not make my similar behaviour acceptable.”
Outside of Synod, during a formal debate members of each team will, while someone is speaking, scribble points – rebuttals, extensions of the argument, examples. A reporter at a press conference will ask a question and then scribble notes while the person is speaking. People will lean into each other and whisper a thought, or comment, or question during a sermon or public address. This isn’t seen as discourteous. I view the use of social media in a similar way.
4. “There is a danger of miscommunication. During an ongoing session of Synod any comment on the progress of a debate is by definition partial: it does not give a full picture of the debate. Partial information can be misleading.”
This is not limited to social media communication – the problem is accurately presenting the debate, not stifling partial views. I have an idea for this which I will try to express at the end of my post.
5. “It is also possible for inaccurate information and misunderstandings to be communicated by social media to people outside of Synod. This could be unfair to particular members of Synod and Synod as a whole because the majority of Synod members are unaware of the information or misinformation being communicated. There is little possibility of correction.”
This is just as much a danger in any conversation with members outside of Synod – over wine or dinner or back in the Parish. At least on Social media it is in a public forum, not in a private conversation – which means that miscommunication and misunderstandings can be addressed publicly. I would argue there is greater ability for correction in this matter because it is public, not an unknown conversation.
6. “Silencing the reticent synod speakers. An unintended social consequence of the use of social media during Synod is that it will inhibit the participation of some Synod members. This inhibition will come about due to the embarrassment that a Synod member may well experience when they make a mistake of fact, emphasis or protocol in their speaking to Synod. In our conservative Anglo-Saxon Tasmanian culture, some people find it difficult to speak in front of a large audience such as Synod. The knowledge that what they are saying is being reported even as they speak by social media is likely to silence some Synod members.”
Viewed another way, reticent speakers may feel more comfortable tweeting their view, or blogging, or facebooking than standing up in a room such as Synod which can be quite daunting for newcomers – particularly those who have little or no idea of the formal procedures.
7. “Another issue is that some members of Synod will be aware of some of the communications by Synod members using social media but others will not. A key aspect of Synod is that all people have the same access to information to inform their decision making.”
I address this in my idea at the end of the post.
8. “How is the chairperson of Synod included in the social media information flow/conversations? I would have to say that as President of Synod it would be very difficult to both chair the Synod and be reading Facebook, tweets, texts and blogs!”
I believe that you have some very capable, wise people around you who are able to monitor these things and make sure that you are aware of issues that arise. The public nature of it, I find as an advantage – you know what is being said and by who and can address it.
In closing, I think one of the best ways to respond to social media is to embrace it. Appoint someone who is schooled in its use to monitor and engage with the conversations in some official capacity. Have a live stream of tweets at Synod on the screen. Have an official Tassynod twitter account that is asking questions about current debates, or foreshadowing what is coming in the business paper. Encourage people to follow the hashtag, to read blogs that give differing views of the topic and to engage with the conversation.
Social media allows conversations that may otherwise be hidden to be brought to the light – if done well and appropriately, this is going to be beneficial to the discussions and decision making in the diocese.
Considering your negatives as listed:
With respect, social media use – related to the business of Synod – *is* participation, and effective participation at that.
Who was more engaged and effectively participating during the presidential address – those members of Synod reading books, or those writing/tweeting about the content? To suggest that those actively engaged and interested in the business of Synod through digital social media were doing something inappropriate seems strange to me.
I don’t understand this point. People are able to easily switch between addressing different audiences depending upon context. I will speak differently in quiet conversation with people at my table than when I stand to address the whole Synod.
Again, you make the assumption that use of social media precludes attention or engagement with the speaker. Quite the contrary: social media allows a diversity of interaction and discussion that can be far more effective fashion than the traditional mode of Synod permits.
Is it impolite if I hand-write notes as someone speaks? What if I type my notes into a computer? What if I send them to other people? Would it be impolite if done by a journalist? When does writing reflections, observations or noting stand-out comments from a speech become impolite? I don’t believe that it does.
There’s always danger of miscommunication. Humans have this problem, regardless of how they are communicating.
If a person leaves Synod before a debate concludes, do we ban them from talking about what took place? Do we have even the slightest concern that they may present the deliberations that they had seen as being the outcome? I certainly don’t. I can’t see that there is any concern that comments on events in-progress will be prone to being any more misleading than any other comments that may be made.
We – as humans – know how to communicate partial as partial. Someone who communicates partial as complete is being deceptive. This is true far beyond the scope of digital social media.
It is also possible for inaccurate information and misunderstandings to be communicated by *any means of human communication, private and public*. This *is* unfair to particular members of Synod and Synod as a whole because the majority of Synod members are unaware of the information or misinformation being communicated. There is little possibility of correction. And there is almost nothing we can do about it.
I see no reason why social media should get called out for this as being somehow different to any other form of communication.
On the contrary, communication of information in a [more] public and persistent digital medium makes it possible to observer that miscommunication has occurred, and thus provides opportunity for actions to counter that misinformation – in a way that other forms of communication do not allow.
Disrespect for an individual is disrespect, regardless of medium. I would trust that members of Synod would make appropriate reflections on the business of Synod, not personal attacks.
Again, this is not something that is particular to digital social media.
Realistically, the members of Synod do not have access to the same information. The members of Synod come from different places and communities, are involved in different committees and councils, sit at a particular table for the duration of the event, have more or less time (and interest) for preparation, and even when speaking to the whole of Synod, speakers will often try to convince the whole without conveying all the information that they have available to them (for reasons including confidentiality, rhetoric and meeting a time-limit)
(And it’s worth considering that events like pre-Synod meetings and discussion in table groups can actually *lessen* the amount of information that the whole of Synod is able to receive in common.)
To use of communication channels accessible to more people (even if not all) seems to be a benefit to the overall deliberations of Synod, not a loss.
It’s also very difficult for the President to manage the Synod agenda, amendments, count votes, keep the minutes, and manage the media. Fortunately, we’ve worked out ways of reducing that burden – I’m sure real-time digital social media could be handled in an appropriate fashion 😉
Actually, I think I’m going to backtrack on my comments on this point:
The President hears very little of the many conversations that happen at the Synod. Such discussions and comments are – on their own – irrelevant to the business of Synod. The President (and the Synod) hears the speeches delivered at the microphones, and the minutes reflect this. The decisions of Synod are the results of many factors, but we give no special attention to anything but the speeches. I think this distinction should be maintained.
Should we expect that tweets will be minuted? Blog posts printed and distributed to members at the start of each day? Should we expect the same for discussions about the business over tea & biscuits? Of course not.
Treat social media like any other private conversation held in a public space.
Oops. One should be careful when commenting while logged in 🙂 The previous comment is mine, in case there was any confusion.
I like what Jonathan said
Back for another contribution!
I must preface these remarks with a disclaimer – I do not use Twitter, and so quite possibly do not fully appreciate the many positive outcomes of tweeting Synod which have been espoused here. However, my (perhaps limited) understanding is that it is not just ‘other interested Anglicans’, or ‘missionaries overseas’ who would be receiving the Twitter feeds, but everyone who followed a particular “Tweeter” (Twitterer??). This may put a slightly different complexion to the argument about involving other interested parties in the decision making processes of our Diocese.
Add to this what actual content seems, often, to get Tweeted. Again, I do not use the Medium, so am clearly not privy to everything that was tweeted during Synod. I did receive (and look at afterwards) some comments that came across to my Facebook page via Twitterfeed, and similar platforms. Apart from the occasional exception, most of the Twitter commentary on Synod I did see would hardly pass as high-level engagement with the debate and proceedings of the Synod! 🙂
I use social media a lot and I would like to comment on this issue, Not wanting to contradict but to offer another perspective.
I think decision making involves process and if process is not allowed to complete poor decisions can be made.
Social media can be used to report conclusions, or describe process as it is occuring. I think to report process as it is happening is not always helpful to coming to a good conclusion and can breed misunderstanding. If some one is giving a blow by blow description, “Fred is opposing Mary’s view and Mary is not happy” I think this violates the safe environment in which debate and decision making should happen. A wider audience now have the commentators opinion of Mary and Mary has no recourse. People who experience this will soon not contribute to discussion and debate and consequently increase the chance of a poor decision being made.
If social media is to be used I think it should be used to report the actual decisions, not the process. “Synod has decided to increase the missions budget by 25% over the next 3 years” Details can be reported at a later time.
Secondly I think that there is a maturity question – we have seen in the media in recent times that even some well known people have been bitten by the messages they have sent through social media.
One would hope that Synod delegates would be mature people but alas there are no guarantees here either. Which begs the question where does conficentiality fit in here do we know when NOT to twitter? In my view the safestthing to do is to allow social media in the breaks when there is more liklihood that decisions rather than process will be reported and people will be less likely to act on the spur of the moment and put something up that they and others are likely to to later regret.
Hope this makes sense.
As a young person in the church i believe it is important for us as a body to be using social channels like twitter and/or facebook to reach our family and friends who cannot attend this event and more broadly the wider community.
I believe it is important that people should be allowed to tweet during breaks that happen throughout the event. It is good to have an official person delegated to doing so too, through a synod or anglican tasmania twitter account. However as an active tweeter myself, i don’t think that stopping everyone else from tweeting would work either.
In essence I guess that it is important as an organisation and body of christ to keep updated in this area and by doing this positively through status updates and/or tweets. It sends a good message to the community.
Leaving a comment here because you appear to have turned them off on your most recent post…
That old-media-sourced commentary of twitter includes factual errors and an old-media mindset.
1 billion tweets in 5 years? Twitter carries more than 200 million tweets *per day* (source: http://blog.twitter.com/2011/08/your-world-more-connected.html ). Which presumably means that there have been more than 2 billion tweets posted so far this month.
A lot of news is “broken” on twitter before major outlets carry it, and plenty of rumours and hoaxes are propagated, too. These things are, I am sure, connected.
Royalty, presidents and prime ministers broadcasting to millions of people was already possible. I think Paul Smith’s perspective is painfully narrow when it comes to what is good about twitter.
Individuals occasionally writing things that are not well considered, or carelessly transmitted is yet another example of something that is a regular occurrence in human communication given greater attention because of the newer medium.