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Social media and the events at GTS

Social media and the events at GTS

We are interested in hearing your thoughts on the role that social media–specifically blogs, Facebook and Twitter–played in the events that unfolded over the last several weeks at General Theological Seminary. It feels to us as though the Episcopal Church has just been through a new experience and we’d like to try to understand it better.

We know there was intense interest in the story in certain circles. The Cafe reached more than 105,000 people on Facebook in the last seven days, a record for us, and we’ve had more than 207,000 visits to the blog in the last month, which is more than double our average. And we were certainly not the only players in the social media game. But what do these numbers mean? What, if anything, did they make happen?

If social media influenced the events at General Seminary, how did it do so? What were the mechanisms? Who benefitted from the use of social media? Who was hurt by it? In what ways?

How did you choose to participate in this conversation on social media and what, in retrospect, do you think about your participation?

Best answers have a good chance to be footnotes in a future master’s thesis….


Café Comments?

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I am not Episcopalian, I’m RC, but thanks for the invitation. I wrote some remarks on several sites, including the Episcopal News Service. Granted, only a few right now know the whole story of the academic dispute at General Theological Seminary. Even so, I do believe there was enough evidence in the public domain so that many of us could draw some conclusions about the situation at GTS. The apparent anomaly of a faculty strike at an important seminary, and, the sources of this discord really stood out. When nearly an entire faculty becomes alienated, and then is threatened with losing their positions, the improbability of the situation generates a call for explanations and speech. Taking up the faculty’s cause did not become so difficult then based on the evidence that was presented. That there was an apparent confusion on the part of the board between church discipline and traditional faculty rights and freedoms was also apparent. Defending intellectual and academic freedom became the order of the day.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Here goes again! I posted but it didn’t post.

The institution failed to communicate with the outside world, which was not surprising for a seminary which barely acknowledges its neighbors or the local community board. It doesn’t help when the face of the seminary is the construction of luxury housing.

An unresponsive hierarchy partly explains why fewer people need church today.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Gary Paul Gilbert

I agree the institution failed to communicate with the outside world and seemed to resent that this crisis had become public. It was more of the same from a seminary which rarely acknowledges its neighbors or the local community board.

This unwillingness to communicate partly explains why many people today don’t bother with church.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Cathy Kerr

Pluses minuses, definitely. The use of social media was effective in getting out the word that something was happening. It was very helpful for me to be reconnected to my GTS classmates via a closed Facebook messaging group where good information, consolation, prayers, and strategy were shared. On the other hand, what I saw on social media in general was a rapidly expanding shock wave of nastiness and misinformation that seemed to make reasoned dialogue less and less possible as time passed. It clearly tapped into a deep well of anger, but the connection to what was actually happening at GTS often seemed tenuous. I began to wonder if it wouldn’t impede any possible reconciliation more than it helped, and I’m not sure the jury isn’t still out on that one.

I was a communications professional before seminary (and as a matter of fact I did write a masters thesis – at General – on social media and the church). From that perspective, I agree that there were communications missteps all around, but in particular it was glaringly obvious that the administration was not getting any good advice on how to manage communications in a crisis. I know that “spinning” is not particularly admired, but it’s a fact that you can start with the exact same facts and make yourself look better or worse. For example, the “these people” quote in the NYTimes, or the dean’s open letter of self-defense, or the wording of the Board of Trustees’ most recent statement. All had the effect of ratcheting up resentment. Not to mention the slow drip of the information flow overall.

It’s a fact that we live in a social media world. It’s unavoidable that information of one sort or another will be circulated and parsed by the masses. No one is going to sit back and say, we trust you as the authorities, so we’ll just sit here in an information void while you work things out. I believe it’s possible that much of the unfolding tragedy could have been avoided if anyone had been actively attending to how it all looked to the outside. And this continues to be true, since the situation is far from resolved.

Catherine D. Kerr, GTS 2012

Aldon Hynes

My job is social media manager for a non-profit organization, so I am, perhaps, looking at this from a different lens than others here.

While social media did provide an outlet for venting and access to lots of information, which we could never be sure about, it seems like there were important failures and important lessons to be learned.

It also seems like a very important indicator of the transition we are in and the times to come.

For more of my thoughts, see the blog post I wrote about this at

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