"You shall be cautious in your Words and Carriage, that the most penetrating Stranger shall not be able to discover or find out what is not proper to be intimated, and sometimes you shall divert a Discourse, and manage it prudently for the Honour of the worshipful Fraternity."
- James Anderson's Constitutions, 1723
What is it about anti-social media that compels some Masons to take good leave of their senses?
A couple of years ago, the Grand Lodge of Scotland went all in on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, in addition to its extensive website, with frequent posts about news of the Craft, announcements, general interest articles, photos and more. Those were public pages and posts that were open for all to see. The hope was that this public campaign would help attract new members, along with engaging existing ones online.
Unfortunately, it seems that plenty of Masons couldn't make the distinction between public versus private pages, and how they were supposed to behave in public when it came to private information and their own language and behavior. Over time there was an increase in posts about what should have remained just between the walls of the lodge room, or public language and behavior that had no business being identified with Freemasons, who should know better.
So, what started as a genial attempt to have an open, public face of the fraternity has now been officially shut down by the powers that be in Edinburgh.
The Grand Lodge of Scotland has just pulled the plug on its social media pages and accounts - although their website still is online. And the story actually made The Times yesterday.
From Grand Lodge logs off social media after freemasons overshare secrets (it's hidden behind the Times' paywall, so this is an excerpt):
Robert Cooper, the curator of the lodge’s library and museum, who also edits its Twitter and Facebook pages, confirmed that the pages had been put on hold pending an internal review.
“As with any organisation there are internal private discussions that shouldn’t be aired in public,” he said. “Unfortunately, some of our members are doing that. Naively, they are putting up messages on Facebook saying, ‘What do you think about what the Grand Lodge are proposing?’ Issues being discussed are not public but then, all of sudden, they are in the public domain.”
Mr Cooper, an author and historian, said that there had been instances in which individuals had been revealed as members without their consent. “There are some people who work in sensitive occupations that don’t want their membership to be known,” he said. There also have been cases where online disputes between brothers became less than fraternal.
“People are putting things on the likes of Twitter and Facebook that are simply not appropriate,” he said. “Certainly things you would never say face to face to people. That’s causing all sorts of internal disciplinary problems.”
Mr Cooper hoped that the pages, which made announcements, highlighted items of masonic history and addressed popular misconceptions about the organisation, could return. “We have got 25,000 people from around the world who read the posts regularly,” he said. “We have had lots of queries as to why we have stopped.”The article goes on to quote a couple of members about the development:
Gordon Paton, a member of the lodge, whose initiates refer to the organization as "the craft," called for the sites to be reactivated. He said: "Social media isn’t going to go away. To ignore it would be extremely introverted whereas we should be outward looking and communicating positively about the craft."
Ian Hunter, another member, added: "I am all for making the craft more accessible to the public as most lodges are seeking to bring in new members as our numbers are dwindling. "We could have a closed group where anything goes for masons only or a public group where only the secrets and rituals are kept off."Many grand lodges have done just that on Facebook - created private pages to discuss matters the public doesn't need to see. In the ancient days of the early 2000s B.Z. (before Zuckerberg), private online forums hidden behind password protected sites with verified member identification accomplished all of this. It's probably rank nostalgia to pine for those halcyon days of yesteryear, but Facebook and Twitter have not been the best development for the fraternity. Only one of the laziest and most insidious, since it's everywhere.
In addition, more and more jurisdictions are establishing social media policies and guidelines for their members in a possibly forlorn effort to bring back the forgotten skills of common sense, decorum and manners to their members. Possibly because of their New England scold tradition and having way too many Harvard lawyers on hand, I know that Massachusetts has a truly enormous one they developed in an effort to think of every possible transgression. Maine, Virginia, Florida, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Minnesota, Hawaii, Texas, Illinois all have them, and I'm sure many more do, as well. Prince Hall jurisdictions have them. My own jurisdiction in Indiana is hammering one out right now, and we might actually be among the last to do so. More and more grand lodges outside of the U.S. are creating them, as well.
What is it about the bizarre anonymity of online interaction that sends our whole notion of subduing our passions right out the 10th-story window? Far too many Masons proudly display a square and compass on their profiles, or even profile pictures and avatars, and then go right on unleashing rude, crude and reprehensible public posts and comments that would have gotten them bounced from the fraternity even a short decade ago. Political diatribes, religious rants and insults, personal arguments deliberately guaranteed to elicit rage, and regular strings of F-words, D-words, C-words, N-words, S-words, and ABEGHIJLMOPQRTUVWXYZ-words all pour out online next to a shining avatar of the fraternity. The problem is frankly worldwide, but U.S. Masons seem especially uncircumspect in their online discussions and behavior while displaying public badges of Masonry. So, in a world that has lost all manners and common sense, rules and regulations must now replace what used to be those things you "just don't do."
The problem is that non-Masons regard every single Mason as a freestanding example of the fraternity. In other words, to echo the hairy old bromide, "You are someone's idea of Freemasonry." That's triply true among anti-Masons, or just those who are on the fence about us. In a culture that questions and sneers at nearly all religious and non-activist organizations, and declares hypocrisy to be the most egregious transgression on the planet, Masons who don't publicly live up to our own standards and expectations do us more harm than any anti-Masonic fanatic ever could.
So Scotland has just decided to solve their situation by closing down their social media altogether, at least for now. Hopefully they will come back with private pages, because Bob Cooper was posting fascinating and informative stories online for several years.
Unfortunately, Times reporter Marc Horne loses ten points from his fair reporting scorecard for his concluding paragraph that resorts to the requisite (you guessed it) 'handshake and trouser leg' reference:
Last year Scotland’s freemasons allowed cameras into their lodges for the first time for a BBC documentary, Secrets of the Masons. The lodge refused, however, to reveal the details of its handshakes — or grips — or to allow its initiation ceremonies, which are said to involve blindfolds and raised trouser legs, to be filmed.I'm now convinced that all reporters in the UK have a keyboard shortcut that just inserts this same reference into every single news story by hitting Cmd+33. Odd that they wouldn't dare insist inserting a reference to Catholics 'genuflecting and bead jiggling,' or Muslims 'banging their foreheads on the floor,' or Jews 'wearing their funny little skullcaps' whenever their traditions are reported upon. Because I guess that would be rude and insensitive.
Whereas we Freemasons must just be silly old farts of no real consequence, unworthy of any respect, but always worthy of a parting sneer.
H/T to R. J. Johnson