What I Learned From My Lent Without Twitter

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you know that I took social media off for Lent. This is the first time I’ve ever done this and it was an interesting experiment that netted some important lessons:

  1. I didn’t miss it. Sure, there were one or two times when I thought “Hey, I should share this on Twitter!” But the feeling quickly passed and I doubt anyone really missed a random link about evangelization or catechesis from me..
  2. I missed hearing from some online friends. There are a number of people I only know online who I enjoy interacting with and I did miss them. Which makes me think I should find some ways to meet these folks face-to-face.
  3. I wasn’t more productive. I had hoped that I might get some writing done, or a bunch of reading. That didn’t happen; in fact, my pace seemed to slow down a bit more this Lent than in years passed. And I was OK with that.
  4. I missed a bunch of hot takes on current events… and that was great. One of the interesting side effects of being off social media was not hearing about breaking news until after the initial reactions had passed and there had been time to get context. This was a much more enjoyable way to consume news and makes me want to return to more long-form reading in magazines and journals that have taking time to reflect before publication.

I’m not sure I’ll give up social media next year, but I’m glad I did it this year. I hope I’ll be able to take these lessons to heart in my use of Twitter in the coming months.

Images for the “O Antiphons”

Tomorrow begins the great “O Antiphons” during Vespers (Evening Prayer) as the Church prepares to celebrate the Nativity our Lord.

To help mark this final preparation I have created some images for each of the O Antiphons; feel free to download them and post them to your personal or parish social media accounts. (They are formatted for Instagram, but can be used anywhere.) There is no need to attribute them to me; I release them to the public domain.

December 17:

December 18:

December 19:

December 20:

December 21:
12-21John 12-46

December 22:

December 23:
12-23Isaiah 7-14

Are Your Tweets Putting Your Ministry at Risk?

5897611358_5c15cd6f87_bYesterday I ran across a story about a recent Federal Trade Commission settlement with Deutsch LA, an advertising firm, regarding their social media marketing on behalf of a client.

Long story short: Deutsch LA a) tweeted information for a client and b) encouraged employees to do the same on their personal accounts, c) without disclosing the business relationship between the client and the company or the employee and the company. The FTC ruled this a violation of their disclosure rules. These rules state that if you promote something for which you have a vested interest (including, but not exclusively, a monetary interest) you must disclose that fact. This is one reason, for instance, I always state in my book reviews if I received a free review copy — that fact may color my perception of the book and readers should be aware of that fact.

Similarly, if an employee tweets or blogs something on behalf of their employer, they have an interest in it and that fact should be disclosed. These rules have been in place for years, but with the advent of new media the boundaries are a little blurry about what constitutes adequate disclosure.

This got me thinking about implications for employees of Catholic parishes, schools, and other ministries who use blogs, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media to promote their activities.

(Here’s where I add a disclaimer that I am not a lawyer and don’t play on on TV, so don’t take any of the following as legal advice.)

I regularly tweet and blog about the activities of my diocese. As I read the issue (and the original FTC rules about disclosure in social media), I should be disclosing in the tweet or blog post (or whatever social media I’m using) my relationship as an employee of the diocese. It’s not enough to state in my bio or elsewhere on the page that I am employed by the diocese, since this does not meet the FTC’s “proximity and placement” rule. (I also don’t see any exemption for nonprofit organizations.)

So, for instance, this tweet would be a violation of the rule, because “our” does not clearly name the relationship between myself and the diocese:

But this one would include proper disclosure, since it references “our office,” making it clear that I work for the sponsoring organization:

(The FTC says you can also disclose through the use of hashtags such as #client or #ad.)

Obviously this has big implications for those who work in Catholic ministry and how they promote their ministry’s events and interests. Our diocese is already working to make sure we can give good advice to help priests, deacons, consecrated religious, and lay employees follow these disclosure rules in their blogs and other social media.

In the meantime, I would recommend everyone keep an eye on their use of social media to promote their ministries to ensure that we are following “best practices” and not inadvertently misleading people regarding our relationships with them.

Photo Credit: daniel.d.slee via Compfight cc

Evangelizing and Catechizing the ‘Net’ Generation

Today I’m offering my talk “Evangelizing and Catechizing the ‘Net’ Generation” at the Indiana Conference for Catechetical Leadership. Below are my slides, notes, and resources for the session. Thanks to everyone who attended!



Web Resources




7 Sources for Parish Social Media Content

Whenever I talk about parishes’ use of social media I always try to point out that a Facebook page, Twitter account, or Instagram profile won’t do much good if isn’t being updated regularly with new content. Fresh content shows that your serious about reaching our with new media and worth following.

But creating content isn’t always as easy as it sounds. And while posting announcements from the bulletin is certainly appropriate, finding other easy, free sources of useful content can help supplement in-house content and keep a parish’s social media accounts fresh.

With that in mind, here are some easy-to-use sources of content for your parish’s social media:

  1. Sunday Homilies: If the pastor’s homilies are written out: Great! Set up a blog and post them there every week. If the homilies aren’t written out: Great! Post two or three “big ideas” from each homily on the parish Twitter feed and Facebook pages.
  2. The Pope: Whether it’s retweeting his daily messages, posting videos of his daily audiences, or sendig out short quotes from his major teachings, the pope always has something new and interesting to say.
  3. Kids: Ask them to record short inspirational video messages on their phones to post to the parish social media sites. You’ll get content and involve youth in the life of the parish.
  4. Google Alerts: Getting customized search results emailed to you means you don’t have to go looking for what people are saying about your parish; you can have their thoughts delivered directly to your inbox and then share them online!
  5. USCCB Resources: The USCCB has gotten pretty savvy about producing social media-friendly resources for parishes. This year’s Nine Days for Life campaign included daily messages and images (in English and Spanish) designed specifically for Facebook. These resources are not always easy to find, but perusing the USCCB web site will usually turn up something interesting.
  6. Blogs: Do you follow Catholic bloggers? Don’t be afraid to share a post that speaks to you with the rest of your parish!
  7. Free Stock Image Sites: Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Search for “church” or “Jesus Christ” on sites like Morguefile and post the beautiful results. (Just be sure the pictures aren’t subject to copyright restrictions!)

I hope these ideas are helpful and help you think about other sources you can use for your parish’s social media outreach. Do you have a source I didn’t list? Share it in the comments!

A New Problem for Christian Facebook Pages

[box type=”info”] UPDATE: November 2013 | A solution at last! An employee in our diocese found this great blog post detailing how to preemptively ban someone from a Facebook page. It requires the use of Google Chrome, and involves some simple HTML editing, but the steps are laid out nicely. I hope that it comes in handy for those who need it.[/box]

facebook-iconOur diocesan Facebook page is being harassed again. This isn’t so surprising (it’s happened before) but the method of the harassment is surprising (and a little ingenious).

A little background: Facebook pages operate, in many ways, like a personal profile. Administrators can log in as a page and then “like” other pages and posted items as well as comment on other pages. If a page is being spammy by posting inappropriate comment on another page, it’s possible to block the offender from that page. Pages that “like” another page can similarly be blocked. However, if a page only “likes” items on a page but doesn’t comment or “like” the page itself, there is no mechanism to block them.

That leads to this new form of harassment. A page with a vulgar (and, frankly, insulting to Christians) name has started liking items on our page:


It’s a little ingenious because it exploits the fact that the name will automatically appear without any ability for our page to block it. Of course we’ve tried reporting the page to Facebook, but Facebook is famously tolerant of such activity (and at this point probably doesn’t see “liking” as harassment). That having been said I’m not necessarily advocating for the deletion of the offending page. I recognize that Facebook doesn’t share my concerns or standards for community decency. But Facebook should at least provide a means to block such offensive and vulgar pages.

At this point we’re exploring other options. In the meantime we’ve posted this message on our page:

Dear Facebook friends: we are aware of a malicious page that is adding its name to the list of “likes” on the items we post. Facebook does not currently have a mechanism for us to remove it; we are evaluating our options. In the meantime you can help us keep the name of this page from appearing by “liking” items we post (this will hide it within a long list of names). We also encourage you to make your feelings on this matter known to Facebook. Thank you, and God bless you.

The response has been very supportive. But I would caution any Catholic organization operating a Facebook page that, for the moment, this is a very real danger that has no immediate solution. Hopefully I’ll have some good news in a few weeks as our diocese looks for a solution.

Notes and Resources – Evangelizing and Catechizing Digital Natives

photo by Steve Woods/stock.xchng

Today I led a workshop for the Catechetical Leadership Association for the Diocese of Des Moines (CLADD). These parish catechetical leaders and I explored how to engage the “net generation” in their faith through the tools of the new media. Below are my slides and notes for the event as well as additional resources and recommendations for further reading.

Thanks again to John Gaffney of the Diocese of Des Moines for the invitation and to the great catechetical leaders I met today — thank you for your participation and for making me feel welcome among you!



My notes from today’s presentation are available as a PDF file.

Web Resources




photo by Steve Woods/stock.xchng

Three Ways to Keep Me From Following You on Twitter


I haven’t made any bones about the fact that Twitter is my go-to social media platform. I find that I get more value out of Twitter with the same investment of time and energy than any other service out there.

That having been said I’m still pretty picky about who I choose to follow on Twitter. (Yes, even someone who follows 2,200 accounts has standards!)

With that in mind here are three things that will keep me from following you on Twitter:

  1. Only post once per week. Twitter is a veritable fire hose of updates and information; it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. If you’re not posting on a regular basis — even once a day or so — I know I’m going to miss whatever you have to say, so I probably won’t even bother following you in the first place. The USCCB posts about 7-9 times per day (including retweets); that’s a pretty healthy stream of information and ensures that, regardless of when I check Twitter, I’ll probably notice you. I do make some exceptions for this rule, but only for people that post really high-quality updates that I don’t want to miss.
  2. Never reply to what others post. I use Twitter to interact with other people — the real takeaway for me is the conversations and sharing that occurs in 140 characters. If I don’t see any @ replies in your Twitter stream I’m probably not going to bother following you because it’s obvious you’re not interested in talking, just broadcasting.
  3. Only post promotions — or worse, spam. A couple months ago I had a Catholic company tweet at me about some service or product they were offering. Starting a relationship with a sales pitch isn’t the best first move. To make it even worse, when I checked their account it was obvious that they were sending the exact same message to dozens of others Catholics on Twitter. This is pretty much the definition of spam and I reported the account to Twitter as such. I don’t care if we share the faith or not — good manners count online. Introduce yourself to others by replying to their tweets before you start telling them about your services.

Do you have any standards for connecting with others online? Share them in the comments!

Why I Mothballed My Facebook Profile

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen that I recently mothballed my personal Facebook profile. Specifically, I set my profile to hidden, de-friended all but family and a few close friends, and put up a note that I would no longer be posting to the site any more. To be clear I didn’t deactivate my account; I’m still responsible for some of our diocese’s social media activities and I’m still maintaining my Jonathan F. Sullivan page, so I need access to Facebook. I’m simply no longer using it as a personal social networking outlet.

This may seem an odd move for someone who has widely encouraged the use of Facebook and other social media platforms for catechists and Catholic educators, and the irony is not lost on me. A few people have asked for the specific motivation for this action. The truth is that there’s no single reason, but a variety of factors went into this decision:

  1. Facebook’s  algorithm  stopped working for me. Over the years Facebook has tweaked and changed the way it decides what to show people on the front page. In recent months, for whatever reason, I was seeing fewer things of interest from people I wanted to see stuff from. Admittedly my friends may have been posting less interesting items, but I think the changes to the algorithm are the more likely culprit.
  2. I don’t care about political arguments. This was especially true as we approached last November’s elections, but the number of stupid, poorly informed, and  inflammatory  political posts really soured me on the Facebook experience. I have friends on both sides of the political divide and a lot of them were posting things that are unworthy of my time and attention.
  3. Facebook is the Genesis planet of social media. In  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Genesis planet (created by a device which takes dead planets and terraforms them into lush, living worlds) proved to be beautiful but extremely unstable, with shifting landscapes and rapidly shifting weather patterns making it all but uninhabitable. It’s an apt metaphor for Facebook’s constantly shifting privacy policies, updates, and backend changes. I’ve grown tired of relearning how to do things on the site every six months.

I want to reiterate that I am still using Facebook for public activities; it is only as a personal social networking site that I’ve abandoned it. I remain convinced that every parish should have a Facebook page to reach out to parishioners. I’m just not as convinced that Facebook is a great place to connect with friends and family anymore.

How To Survive a Social Media Attack With Your Soul Intact

The past weekend our diocesan Facebook page came under attack after our bishop wrote about the spiritual implications of voting for intrinsic evil. Some of the posters engaged the substance of the arguments; some, while disrespectful, were at least not vulgar or obscene; and the rest made for the most soul-damaging work of my life. I won’t describe the types of things I had to delete from our page. Suffice to say that the language, while course, was nothing compared to the brutality of the photoshopped pictures that people posted. I was sick to my stomach and sick in my heart.

So how does one maintain faith, hope, and charity amid such a morass of filth and hate? How can you weather such a storm with your heart still ready to reach out to others? Here’s how I handled it:

  1. Find some beauty. I was fortunate that, in the middle of this mess, I chanced across a picture my friend Dorian had tweeted of a beautiful cathedral dome. Taking in that beauty for just a few seconds lifted me up a bit and reminded me that, while my computer screen was filled with ugliness, there is beauty in the world.
  2. Take a break. Sometimes you just have to walk away for a little while. While I didn’t like the idea of something obscene being posted in my absence, the truth is that policing our Facebook page is not my most important job — either in my work for the Church or in my life. Taking time with my family, reading a book, making a meal — anything to get my mind off the Facebook page for a little while helped me to get back to a sense of “normalcy.”
  3. Remember it is temporary. Just remembering that this, too, will pass came with a great sense of relief. Our Facebook page has been attacked before; this one, too, will subside with time as people get bored and move on to the next confrontation. And in fact the main brunt of the attack was over in under 24 hours.
  4. Pray, pray, pray. We’ve been praying the St. Michael Prayer after Mass in our  diocese  for a couple years now, but never has the phrase “defend us in battle” taken on such immediacy for me. Asking the archangel for his intercession — especially on Saturday, when it was the Feast of the Archangels! — helped me to soldier on through the attacks. St. Michael is a powerful patron when undergoing spiritual trials — rely on him!

How do you maintain your spiritual wellness when confronted with sin and ugliness online?