Of Investigation and Inquiry – Using Social Media to Investigate
Recently I came across a post on the facebook group “All Things Masonic” that was a seemingly simple question. Asked by Bro. Byron Upton: “Should a petitioner’s facebook or other social media account be used as part of the investigation process?”
It was difficult for me to process the split in opinions on this matter. I couldn’t believe it actually. As of this blog post there have been 141 replies to this question. They range from the indecisive to the absolute polar ends. I cannot even say there is a clear majority without going through and counting each individual posters reply.
I am going to start out by saying my opinion, and then I will comment on a few replies that caught my attention.
For me, and for my lodge, I would say that any sort of investigation into a person’s character utilizes the materials we have available to us. This is especially true when cost is a factor. For no money at all, a lodge can quickly access information on an individual that has been posted on a public forum. Some chose to remain private, some may not understand how to make things private, but for anything that is out there to be viewed, I for one strongly feel it is fair game to use in an investigation of a potential member. It is at least fair game to be used to form questions for the candidate during the interview process.
Some of the responses in the negative included opinions that facebook and other social media sites are not an accurate representative of an individual and therefore should not be used. I say HOGWASH! ….although I say it with caution. While it is absolutely true to say that facebook does not define a man from tip to toe, it does provide insight into much of their lives, friends, habits, and personality.
I am not sure why I would be incorrect by saying, “Isn’t that what we are looking for during an investigation?” Granted, an investigation committee should not, and as a matter of fact CANNOT, use or base their overall conclusion on social media alone. That would be un-Masonic, cowardly, asinine, unfair, and downright stupid. What the investigation committee can and SHOULD do in my opinion is look at all aspects of posts and public information available to better create a series of questions for the candidate.
If you are like me, you hate facebook but cannot seem to stay away from it. I hate it, yet I can’t seem to get away from checking in the latest. I am constantly finding stuff that I have posted that was supposed to be private or for families to see only, but find out after 2 years the post was in fact public all along. Because of this I have a simple rule…….try not to post offensive crap. Sounds simple enough, but never works out.
Your public opinions can land you in hot water. You public opinions can make or break a friendship. Your opinions are, however, YOUR opinions and as such are a representative of you as a person. For a guy like me, I am a very opinionated person. I care passionately about social issues and political topics. I always feel the need to voice my opinion. I have a private page that SHOULDN’T be visible to the general public and the friends I have on my page have either requested my friendship or I have requested theirs. If one of my “friends” does not like my opinion, they are free to unfriend. It is, however, my responsibility to conduct myself accordingly. As a private individual it is my responsibility to police my posts even if I think my political opinion will not be shared with some of my friends on the page.
As a candidate for membership, it is also your responsibility to police your public image and posts. While no one is saying you have to make facebook your professional resume, you would be foolish not to know that what you put online can and will be used against you sometimes.
Take my profile for example: I do not have my birthday listed for the public, however, according to facebook which required I was over a certain age when I joined in 2004, I was born February 29, 1956. If an investigation committee were to see this, common sense has to factor into investigation to a certain degree. Obviously I was not born on leap day 58 years ago. On the other hand, if I was tagged by someone else in a picture side by side with a group white pointy hat wearing men burning a cross…….then I think it’s pretty much a given that I would either have some splainin’to do, or the photo spoke for itself. That is, a person in such a picture most likely has no place in Freemasonry. Again, this would be a question to bring up during the investigation.
As a matter of fact, if it was my investigation committee, odds are an image like that would be placed on the table shortly after “Hi, how are you today?” The candidate will either have an explanation, or he won’t. Either way, I am doing my job to guard the west gate.
I honestly look at facebook investigation as a necessary evil. Sure, it’s your candidate’s personal page, but unfortunately that is what we are looking into, your personal life. This topic is of particular interest to me, as I have a first-hand experience dealing with a social media situation.
Like most internet savvy Masons, I constantly find myself looking for news stories, blogs, videos, and whatever, you name it, for mentions of the words “masonic” or “freemason.” In doing this about a year ago I came across a YouTube video titled something along the lines of “My Freemason Diner.” (NOTE: I’ve modified the actual name here to protect the privacy of the lodge and the individual.) The video was of a young man who was video blogging himself getting ready to go to a dinner and meet a few brothers. Nothing is wrong here. This is exactly what happens all over the world. Because I am inquisitive, I started clicking on the individuals other videos. Some things just struck me as immature. Not so much wrong, but immature. This led me to his twitter and facebook accounts. The entire time I was doing this I was finding more and more gray areas that, had it been my lodge, I would have wanted brought to my attention. I was seriously conflicted as to what to do, if anything. On one hand, it wasn’t my lodge, my investigation, or my business. On the other hand, it is all of our jobs to police our fraternity for the greater good.
After some back and forth I contacted the lodge secretary. This particular lodge (which was even a different jurisdiction than my own) was very happy to take my information, which I assured them I had no personal connection to at all, and add to their investigation. After a few weeks I received an unexpected thank you message from the secretary that stated, more or less, “Thank you. This man has some maturing to do.”
I think it is important to point out that the lodge seemed to me like they were willing to give some council to the young man. I don’t know what happened afterward. I just hope for all the best. The main point here is, I found something on a public forum, I passed it along, and I left it up to the lodge to decide what steps, if any, to take. I would hope other lodges would do the same for me.
It is interesting to me that the opposition to using facebook as an investigation tool was as strong as it was. One theme I saw was a misunderstanding of the question where I believe some folks are thinking the questions was referring to using facebook instead of a face to face meeting. Never in a million years would that be acceptable. One on one is what we have to do. However, I firmly believe we can and should be doing more.
What are your thoughts? Should we as a fraternity use any and all sources for investigation? Should we rely soley on what the candidates tell us in an interview? You know how I feel about it. I am curious to hear what you have to say.
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