"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Monday, September 16, 2019

GL of Scotland Shuts Down Its Social Media

"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


  1. My wife and I have had those very conversations about posting on social media with our kids. People seem to think that only thier nearest and dearest friends will see them. Unfortunately, it's not just the younger generations that don't seem to think before they post.

  2. Never forgetting though, that even private FB pages can be read by FB employees, so even on those pages brethren should be circumspect on what they publish!

  3. The FB pages that cater to UGLE Freemasons are generally fairly well self-policed, with the Met GL page being owned by the Met Grand Secretary (for example). There are occasionally some annoying posts, or someone writes something that someone else thinks is part of what we were taught at our initiations to be cautious about.

    GL of Scotland will have to have someone curate their pages, with some not available for general posting (the informational ones) and some hidden ones for the Brethren--they'll have to be moderated.

    Over the years (I've owned many email bounce lists over the past 25 years) I've discovered that the nicest, most mild-mannered people somehow often become gibbering idiots and trolls when they get behind a keyboard. If you ever chance to meet them in person, you find they are perfectly lovely people.

    W.Bro Chris Hansen
    Secretary, Goliath Lodge #5595 UGLE

  4. In some jurisdictions some members do not want to be identified as members. Years ago I was reprimanded by a French professor for mentioning him as a brother by name in an article. He felt that it wasn't the business of students or colleagues and would hamstring his teaching. Since then I have been more careful.

    1. Agreed. I had the exact same experience in that country. And if you read anti-Masonic comments that dominate the newspaper websites when even benign Masonic articles appear in the UK, it's appalling what some noiseboxes in the public say about the fraternity. It can definitely be a problem for some Masons in foreign countries to be identified as members.

  5. They were in particular irked by Masons wanting to bring their arguments onto the GL pages and discussions, and by those who were airing internal discussions and issues that should remain private. Plus, each GL decides what is and is not considered "secret." Most believe that "private" falls under that same definition. That's a long, long way from reducing anyone to "a vegetative state" online. Since when did discretion become a sin?

    Look at it differently. Regard the Masons in your lodge and the deliberate, delicate trust that implies as almost analogous to family. Would you really want your cousin who saw you get plastered at Thanksgiving, or overheard you screaming at the dog, or berating your wife for tossing your favorite shirt, or cursing a blue streak over your neighbor's choice of house paint color... plastering it all over your Facebook page? How about if he peeked in your window Friday night and caught you poking around the porn sites, and decided to tout your personal kink online? Wildly imperfect examples to be sure, but still apropos. Privacy is not dead, at least in our fraternity, even if it is everywhere else. And Freemasonry is deliberately old fashioned when it comes to that.

  6. Over on Facebook there has been an eruption decrying the GL of Scotland's "censorship," demanding that their members need to have an online opportunity to be "given a voice."

    I'd argue that (having been a major recipient of GL justice over early email controversies myself) "giving those gents a voice" means teaching the members of the fraternity just HOW to do that. Social media is NOT giving them a voice - it's a lazy way to give ANYONE an instantaneous way to shout out what fleetingly passed by their brain pan without filtering it through any common sense.

    This was designed from the start to be a small, intimate, PERSONAL fraternity between Brothers who get to know each other. Impersonal social media is destructive to all of society, and we are seeing that happen daily.

    All Masons DO have a voice, in lodge, by getting to know our GL officers and GMs, by cultivating personal relationships in the fraternity over time, by going to district and statewide meetings, by hanging out with the grand secretary, by visiting other lodges, etc. We move slowly. "Modern Men" (whatever that means) don't deal with that ANYWHERE else these days, by and large. And if we change the fraternity to react to instantaneous random thoughts blurted out among Masons who are strangers, instead of calm, reasoned behavior and direct conversation and reasoning, we really will be dead in another decade.

    I think part of what our own members don't realize is a very old concept - we no longer feel comfortable with preaching what we practice. Society declared "preachiness' to be stuffy, hypocritical, "mean" (Oh, my sides!), even insulting now. But Freemasonry was always designed to deliberately teach older, better, more mature, more gentlemanly behavior. It's a snapshot of 18th and 19th century morality and virtue. And we either uphold that and pass it along, or we give it up and become something very different. And if we become something THAT different, what's the point?

  7. Brother Hodapp:

    Hasnt this "shut-down" been reversed since mid-September?


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