The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for people to “put the truth out” as the Church of England issued its social media guidelines for the first time to try to tackle online abuse and misleading content.
Speaking at a live Q&A session at Facebook’s UK headquarters in central London, the Most Rev Justin Welby said: “It is the golden rule that Jesus talked about that is part of all the major world faiths, which is to treat others as you would like to be treated. It talks about truth, kindness and welcome.
“When you put something out on social media, put the truth out.
“Frankly there is no such thing as an alternative fact. There is truth. There is absolute truth. There is opinion and there is truth.
“When you are expressing an opinion, show kindness. Don’t go for the person rather than for the issue.”
There is also a digital charter which the church hopes will try to foster a more positive online atmosphere.
The charter is centred on five principles of truth, kindness, welcome, inspiration and togetherness, with an opportunity for people to sign up in support, the church said.
The social media guidelines include principles such as ensuring the safety of children, young people and vulnerable adults, being honest and not misleading others.
Being kind also features, as does taking responsibility and being accountable for what each person does, says and writes, as well as respecting copyright and always crediting where it is due.
The archbishop urged users to be welcoming to other people online during his Facebook broadcast.
He said the guidelines would be enforced on the church’s own social media platforms.
Posts and responses will be moderated so that people “don’t, as far as we can manage it” lie, act with cruelty or use religious jargon.
The aim is to try to create an atmosphere where people know “what is being said, and by whom and what kind of people we are”, the archbishop said, adding that people should “understand what it means to say something”.
He noted that users often seem to forget they are publishing and also talking about people when they post things on social media.
He suggested that a question they could ask themselves could be, “Is this something that you would say to someone you care about whose humanity you respect?”
The Church of England said that while the guidelines are written specifically for all users who engage with the church’s and archbishop’s national social media channels, the guidelines are built on universal principles.
The guidance states: “Social media is a very public way of enabling us as Christians to live out our calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
“One of its many joys is that it is immediate, interactive, conversational and open-ended.
“This opportunity comes with a number of downsides if users do not apply the same common sense, kindness and sound judgment that we would use in a face-to-face encounter.”
Both the charter and guidelines have the backing of the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu.
He said: “While there is a time and a place for complaint and criticism, too often today this takes place not to encourage improvement but to vilify an individual or group.
“Sometimes it’s about counting to 10 and asking whether a spiteful statement on social media will change a situation for the better.
“Today, we are saying that the church wishes to be present in the digital sphere and the same force for social cohesion which it strives to be in the real world, and we want to work alongside social media companies in their work to make social media a safe and enlightening space for all.”
The church said it is hoped that all faiths, as well as those who do not follow religion, will use the charter to consider how their online interactions can affect others, both in a positive and negative way.