Please see the Social Media Opinion piece from Br. Daniel E. Bartlett, R.W. Deputy Grand Master.
Social Media, why do we need a policy?
By Bro. Daniel E. Bartlett
R.W. Deputy Grand Master
The Grand Lodge of Maine Social Media Policy originated in June 2013 and is the same today as it was seven years ago when then Grand Master Ross issued it. At that point in time he was concerned by the increase of insulting rhetoric of general disrespect towards institutions and individuals and noted in his Grand Master’s address at the following Annual Communication “A subject that sorely bothers me…” and spoke of his deep concern about the social media conduct of Masons. It was apparent that without guidance and direction there was a likelihood of a Brother’s social media posting unintentionally bringing discredit to the Fraternity and to all those associated with it.
That occurs because there are those in society who are made bold by the impersonal nature of social media. They find pleasure in pointing out in a negative manner what that individual perceives as an affront to their personal beliefs or values, without having to worry about consequences for such postings. It is amazingly easy to be negative when you are looking at a screen rather than looking the person in the eyes. They may find humor in someone else proliferating negative or inappropriate statements -or worse- they agree with hateful or extreme postings. They have a larger audience on social media than they would when talking to someone in the Post Office.
Consider for a moment the process to make a personal statement on any topic prior to the early 2000’s. Personal computers had been around for about 20 years, but you still needed to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or send an email to a circle of your peers. And, maybe you wrote that letter in a moment of frustration or anger and by the time you went to put it in the envelope to mail it you had time to consider your words. Many people given that time would soften the tone of what they were trying to say. By 2013 there were already over a billion users of Facebook and YouTube and so with one angry or frustration fueled rant, one could potentially reach thousands of people. What an impact! It may take a few days to spread that far but once you send it, it is out there, and you cannot get it back.
One would think that in our Fraternity, we would have only thoughtful, caring men who would consider their words and choose them carefully to make a point. Prior to accepting them into our midst, they were investigated by a committee of Masons and found to be good upstanding men. Unfortunately, these types of postings are not a good reflection of their character. While most Freemasons circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds, there is an occasional straying from that precept and there is a hateful and vicious statement made. Or, a “sharing” of a post that is hateful or demeaning. There are many people in this world who make a living crafting these types of posts specifically to incite others. As that type of statement when posted on social media circulates, it is not read by just Freemasons. Remember, once it is posted or sent, you cannot get it back.
There will be those who will speak about their Constitutional rights and that the Fraternity is infringing on those rights. I would offer without equivocation that there is no infringement on anyone’s Constitutional rights. The First Amendment makes it unconstitutional for government to suppress speech and expression with certain limitations, i.e., obscenity, perjury, incitement to lawless action etc. The Fraternity has a standard of behavior that all of us chose to abide by of our own free will and accord. If a Brother feels the tenets of Freemasonry conflict with his personal beliefs and desires, that Brother is free to take a Demit and end his association with Freemasonry. There is no forced march here.
As men who are proud of our affiliation with the Fraternity, many have photographs of themselves wearing regalia or a shirt with their lodge name prominently displayed on their social media pages. If that Mason posts a hateful or inappropriate statement or photograph, there is an implied connection between the Fraternity and the hateful or inappropriate post.
Perception is reality for everybody, and the reader of that offensive post has likely made an association between the two. The individual who posted it is secondary now. That Mason has probably unintentionally but nonetheless painted Freemasons with that brush of negativity, hate and anger.
Let me give you a few examples of social media posts that cross the lines of decency which we as Freemasons earnestly subscribe to…
– Dozens of photos of naked women that would easily be considered pornographic.
– Posts of World War II German soldiers, including one of a Nazi soldier pointing a handgun at the head of a naked woman standing in front of him.
– A post threatening to gather a group together to attack and physically assault an 18-year-old woman and her peers at an event she was organizing because he did not agree with her politics.
– Posts threatening duly elected public officials from all political parties with violence or repulsive name calling.
Those posts were found on social media accounts of Maine Masons and brought to the attention of leadership. The Grand Secretary and office staff spend their time and energies on many important duties and surfing through Mason’s social media accounts is certainly not on that list. Many may not wish to believe that a Maine Mason would behave in such a manner and while it is not an everyday occurrence, it does occur. When it does, it needs to have a light shone upon it and it needs to be addressed for what it is, conduct unbecoming a Mason. That light is always illuminated by a Brother or community member questioning the appropriateness of a post.
We must also acknowledge that there are times when a social media post lands in a gray area and is not as easy to categorize as posts containing nudity, racism, or violence. I believe we can all agree that a Mason whose posts include these needs to be confronted. For those in the gray area it may be more challenging to address but a conversation needs to be started with the author of the post to determine his motivation.
While the policy has not changed, the enforcement and response varies from Grand Master to Grand Master ranging from a letter or phone call suggesting a modification of the offenders social media posting up to zero tolerance for violations resulting in suspension from the Fraternity.
In a boiled down version of the Social Media Policy, if you would not say it or show it in open lodge with your Brethren, to your mother, sister or daughter or allow someone else show it to them, you likely should not put it on your social media page. It really can be that easy.
We all lead by example in our everyday lives. How we conduct ourselves is observed not just by our Brethren, but also our children, families, co-workers and community members. We have the ability and responsibility every day to make determined efforts to lead positively from a moral and upright place, or not. The choice is yours.
Think before you post!