In last week’s column, “Somewhere in the World” told a story of a person who was investigating the Church, but who was put off by seeing her story in a missionary’s blog. “Somewhere” wanted to know if there are rules for respecting the privacy of others on social media sites and on personal blogs.

Not many of you wrote in last week, possibly because of being shell-shocked by the election, but there were a few responses. As you can expect, they came down hard on people who violate the privacy of others by telling their stories in a personal forum.

Here’s what the readers had to say:

A missionary blog is a wonderful way to keep loved ones connected to the missionary’s uplifting, faith-promoting experiences. If discussing anyone else in your blog without their knowledge, then they should be referred to as Sister A, Brother X, whatever will not actually identify them.

Negative stories about individuals should be avoided, as they sound mean-spirited and gossipy, and reflect poorly on the writer, I think. As far as poor Agnes P., a simple statement like “our investigators are facing many challenges; please remember them in your prayers” would suffice.

Publishing other people’s conversion stories, without their knowledge or permission, with the intent to profit financially, is obviously wrong. It makes the reader question the missionary’s motivation for serving the mission. Perhaps a better way is for the writer to approach the story as to how it affected him, what he learned or gained from it. In other words, it would be his unique story, and wouldn’t necessarily need to identify the other people involved.

Privacy is a huge issue, and nothing is a secret for long when put online. Nothing stays private on Facebook. I recently bought a romance novel online, and Facebook happily told everyone I bought the book and the name (which didn’t sound all that nice but it was just a Regency romance) and my daughter had to remove it from Facebook because I didn’t know how. I still blush about it. I’m sure there are people out there praying for me and my “challenges.” What a tattletale that site is!

Burned by Social Media

I feel your pain, Burned. Facebook keeps telling people I’m buying things I have no intention of buying. And when I made a comment on a shopping site recently a site I did not visit through Facebook my comment was posted on my Facebook home page as though I were advertising the shopping site. I’m sure nobody who read the comment had any idea what it was doing on my Facebook page, because it was totally out of context there. I know I didn’t!

Facebook’s shortcomings aside, I really liked your observation that “nothing is a secret for long when put online.” If any of you have online journals or blogs, you may want to keep a sign to that effect in a place where you can see it often.

I know people who would be put off by anyone posting information about them and quickly learn not to trust members of the true Church. Members are already suspect by many nonmembers for being secretive, belonging to an evil cult, being brainwashed, and other scurrilous things. The last thing we need is to be “talking” about others openly or even privately. Isn’t that the same as gossip, the very thing we are supposed to avoid at all cost?

Why allow evil influences to lead us in a direction that will offend others and cause them not to want anything to do with us or our missionaries? We should be focusing on following the Savior. If we ask ourselves what He would do, then we have to ask ourselves, “Would our Savior mention the lives of individuals on a social media forum or in any other way, or would He love them and do His best to be of help to them and be a support to them?”

If we feel a need to “talk” about others in any forum, we are just trying to buoy up ourselves in the eyes of others, which never works, and we need to recognize that. It isn’t what He would do, and shame on members who think it is what He would do. This may sound strong, but this is how nonmembers will see it. I know some of them.

Concerned for Those Who Don’t Have what We Have

I’m not sure there’s always (or even often) a malicious intent when people put things in public forums, Concerned. I think it’s more a question of people just not being aware of how easily others can recognize themselves. Sometimes it happens when it’s not even they who are being written about.

One problem is that we just don’t live in a vacuum. One person’s story is going to overlap the stories of countless others, a lot of whom have similar tales to tell. In my own blog, I’ve had people assume I was writing about them when I was describing another experience entirely. I’m not sure what to do about that.

You’re right, though. We need to inspect our motives when we write something for public consumption. Are we trying to build ourselves up, or are we trying to build up others? This is a question that anyone who writes for an online audience should ask himself.

Missionaries really shouldn’t be on any social media. That’s in the mission rules. As for sharing stories with family, I enjoyed hearing aboutmy son’s work, but I wouldn’t have published stories online. Well, some of them, maybe.

There is a linethere when it comes to private information, though. Sharing reasons whysomeone may not be baptized crosses a line and is reallygossip.


You said it, Karin. Some stories are not ours to tell.

I have to admit, when I first heard about this TV show “The District,” I didn’t care much for the idea. I can’t see that anyone would feel comfortable talking about spiritual things or praying with a TV camera in his (or her) face, casting his pearls before swine.

Many of these very special missionary experiences are sacred and special, and should be treated as such. I know that moms are very proud of their missionaries and want to brag to their friends about all these wonderful things their sons or daughters are doing for the Lord, but they need to be respectful of the feelings of others and the need for privacy.

Could you imagine some TV producer doing a reality show called “The Church Court”?


Vacaville, California

Now that you’ve brought it up, Jim, somebody out there is going to think “The Church Court” is a good idea. Back off, people! He wasn’t being serious!

This is a fabulous, timely question. In the not-distant past, family and friends used to be dependent on their missionary’s handwritten weekly letters. Now he only has to send one newsy email, which can be forwarded to hundreds of friends.

This is a great a great tool, of course. And the Church really encourages our use of the internet to help us share the Gospel. But as online tools have become the norm instead of the exception, privacy issues have been a constant concern.

My niece and her fellow missionaries in Singapore were asked by their president not to use blogs, because third parties were spamming and causing other problems. So they switched to sending updates to an email list of their family and friends only.

My nephew who is serving in Germany uses a blog, but his parents edit the emails before sending them along to the rest of us. They replace proper names with just an initial and a blank next to it. For someone named Aaron, it would read A______. In this way they are respecting privacy, but also sharing their personal growth as missionaries, and their teaching narratives. My other nephew also uses a blog, and it goes to a list of family and friends, largely unedited.

When my own kids go on missions, I am likely to embrace the practice of dropping full, proper names out of the narrative. I think we can never be too careful about respecting privacy, and we can still allow the inspiring narratives to be shared in this way.

Rebecca Smith

Thanks, Rebecca, for suggestion that parents help their missionaries safeguard the stories of potential converts. Missionaries have enough on their plates that it may not even occur to them to screen their emails because they will be read by dozens (or even hundreds) of family members and friends. When dealing with sensitive issues, it’s always good to have someone to back you up.

I think repeating anything learned during missionary work is right up there with bishops sharing what they learn in confidence. It is a violation of trust and should never be published in any form. They must get permission before sharing.

It is illegal to publish a picture of someone without permission. Why should someone publish a story? If so much information has been removed or changed that the person cannot be identified or it has become a composite or fiction, it is ok with me. As soon as the person can figure out who it is, I am not ok.

Privacy Matters

Thanks for your input, Privacy. I hope your letter and the others will remind missionaries and their loving relatives that they can do a great amount of damage with a little bit of indiscretion.

Okay, people, let’s have a new topic next week. If you have a topic you’d like to consider in these pages, send it to [email protected]“. DO NOT USE THE FORM ON THIS PAGE, OR YOUR EMAIL IS LIKELY TO GET LOST.

Until next week


“Mutual respect implies discretion and reserve even in love itself; it means preserving as much liberty as possible to those whose life we share. We must distrust our instinct of intervention, for the desire to make one’s own will prevail is often disguised under the mask of solicitude.”

Henri Frederic Amiel


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