How do we define ourselves online?

A wonderful reader writes, regarding the Church’s recent emphasis on online participation, blogging, etc.:

“I am hoping you could post something asking what your audience would suggest to Church PR reps [regarding participation in online fora, whether blogging or commenting], and to the general membership of the church to consider when commenting on media blogs. How should we respond? Where? Why? What should we not say? How do we define ourselves online?”

So, let’s ask!


  1. How? Where? What not to say? These seem like questions an insecure person asks. I say be who you are wherever you blog, read, comment, etc. As far as defining ourselves, I think that that is important for the simple fact that letting others know taht we are LDS allows them to either confirm or redefine stereotypes they may have about the Church. If more people would identify themselves as members, I think that it would show that our Church is more dynamic and perhaps less homogenous than others (including other members of the Church) might think.
    Cromike (identify me as Christan-LDS, Democrat, Male, American, Caucasian….)

  2. The danger in commenting about particular issues are 1) the risk that you are uninformed on the topic (“Of course Joseph had only one wife!”) and 2) the risk of having your comments making the Church look worse than before your comments (due to the tone, substance or merit of the comment).

  3. Cromike, I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of insecurity. There are legitimate questions here from a PR perspective of how and when the Church should intervene in public fora, and when the membership as well should be advised to chime in. Let’s face it, sometimes we can look like fools when we rush in to leave half-baked comments on some newspaper article. Far better for us to think about things first, no?

  4. Latter-day Guy says:

    Don’t post anything that hasn’t passed through correlation. If you have a comment that you wish to post, but aren’t sure if you can substantiate it as doctrinally pure, email it to the correlation committee and let them make the final decision.

    (Seriously, online conversations are the same as any other conversation, insofar that you should just say what you think. I mean, unless it’s crazy.)

  5. Right, J. No.1 is, I think, hopefully something that is going away. No 2. is something really tricky.

  6. On a semi-related note, it’s interesting to see the variety of religious identities listed on sites like MySpace or Facebook for LDS folks I know. Some people list themselves as “Mormon.” Others go “LDS” or “Latter-Day Saint.” Some go the apologist route and put “Christian – Latter Day Saints” or something like that. I’ve seen one or two “Liberal Mormon.”

    And some people (who are Mormon) don’t put any religious identification at all. (One person I know puts “Private” on that section.)

  7. cj douglass says:

    Individuals commenting based on their own beliefs and opinions (WHATEVER they may be) is probably the best PR the church can ask for. The more we (LDS) look like “agents unto ourselves” the better.

  8. Kaimi,
    I think I’m listed as “polygamist Mormon with 52 wives.”

    How should Mormons define themselves online? Not as mindless automatons, that’s for sure.

  9. Right, cj, however it is a PR nightmare if everyone tries to speak for the Church. I think because of the particularities of Mormonism, it is easy to slip into that mode.

  10. I hear Elder Ballard also encouraging us to share what is personal to us…how the gospel affects our lives.

    I think we should be careful before making blanket statements about what is or isn’t doctrine, historical fact, etc. unless we are certain it is sound and correct. I also think we can perhaps help deflect undue attention on things that don’t matter by reminding the media that we really are pretty normal people. The more we are able to talk about our normal lives, the more more people will come to understand that, and come to understand more why the gospel matters to us.

    Also, the less we engage in contentious debate, the better. a la Elder Ballard again.

  11. Amen to #9. That may be especially true if what the original questioner means by “Church PR reps” is someone with a local title who may be mistaken as knowledgeable on any old topic and speaking for the entire Church. I think there are fewer problems if commenters couch their remarks as “in my family …” or “in my experience …” rather than “The Church Says …”

  12. So what should someone say, or not say when responding to stories at news outlets like CNN, etc when errors are made–or other commenters say stupid things?

  13. Ronan,

    If only those bast* at Facebook would let me. But alas, they only allow one “Married” friend at a time.

    I don’t list a religion at my facebook profile. I’m thinking of listing myself as a Wiccan Mormon Scientologist. My coven-mates and I build bonfires at midnight, where we do baptisms for dead Thetans.

  14. An example of what I mean is making an absolute statement that the priesthood ban or polygamy was a mistake of men, etc. We risk creating our own folklore when we try to explain more than we are authorized to explain.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s disheartening to read the comments on newspaper stories involving the Church in Utah. The Mormons tend to come off like angry idiots.

    Rule no. 1 should be to remember that while in your mind you’re responding very specifically to either the original writer/poster or to some other commenter in the string, other people are going to read your comment and make judgments about the church based on how you comport yourself publicly. So, if nothing else, at the very least mind your manners.

    When people get angry, they also get irrational and they lose all persuasive power.

  16. As in … do we use real names or identifies, or pseudonyms to protect us against the Inquisition and employers? Or do we invent new personalities and beliefs we really don’t have?

    In my case, it’s just a pseudonym. I have enough issues than to have to deal with a bishop asking me about my thoughts on XYZ that I’m trying to sort through in public.

  17. Randall says:

    I understand that this is tricky. I have left comments on several articles from the online Deseret News. They have all gone through a vetting process (seemingly only available M-F, 8-5), and many didn’t make it through the filter.

    That is the difficulty with the church hosting an official LDS blog. It’s the wild west of media and works best when it is a laissez-faire free market of ideas. It’s interesting to compare the comments on the Deseret News with those of the SL Tribune. Quite a different tenor.

  18. What about this news story? What would you say in these comments?

  19. Mark B. says:

    I find that the best thing to do is write long impassioned arguments, and then, when you reach the bottom of the post, hit shift-control-home, then the backspace key, and head off to another site. It’s been the non-ruin of many a poor boy . . .

  20. It would have helped if I linked it.

  21. I don’t generally participate in comment forums on articles about Mormonism by the online news media. The conversation is all-too-often ignorant, annoying, and/or upsetting.

    One reason I helped found the Juvenile Instructor blog was in hopes of presenting a forum for intelligent and academic conversation about Mormon history to attract not only other interested LDS, but also non-LDS academics and scholars–in part to show them that there are young LDS academics (or academics-in-training) capable of engaging their faith at a scholarly level. Whether I’ve succeeded or not, I have no idea, but it’s been a conscious attempt to “define myself online” as an open-minded individual interested in his faith from both a personal, spiritual standpoint and a more detached intellectual point of view.

  22. Amen to #15 – the entire comment, every word. I’ve seen much good from comments by members, but the SL Tribune comments just make me shudder. It’s the very definition of warfare. I stopped reading them after the first couple I saw.

    I define myself however it seems appropriate for the discussion. I’ve been characterized too many ways to try to remember just in the Bloggernacle – from liberal nutjob to arch-conservative nutjob and just about everything between. I try to avoid labels, but “Mormon” is fine with me.

  23. Ray Agostini says:

    Can I barge in here as an online observer of commentary on all things Mormon?

    1. Don’t be overly defensive. If people aren’t going to believe Mormonism, being defensive isn’t going to change their view.

    2. If you want people to respect you, and the Church, then respect them and their personal beliefs.

    3. Don’t follow the rules of the correlation committee.

    4. Don’t be afraid to say some of your views differ from the orthodox beliefs (if they do).

    5. In fact, if you can – be different! Too many Mormon blogs are so predictable, and you know exactly what’s coming next.

    I’ve lost interest in the LDS blog commentators at the Washington Post. They read like First Presidency statements, and afraid to say something controversial, or deal with controversies. Blogs that “advertise” Mormonism and look little different than the Church’s official website have no interest for me. Mormon bloggers should deal with the “hard issues”, the difficult questions, because that’s what people want to see. They aren’t all ignorant, and if an LDS blogger even tries to hide, (even by “tactful omission”) the fact that Joseph had at least 33 wives (ie, not what you hear in Church), for example, they’re going to ignore you. I would pay a $million to see an LDS blogger like J. Golden Kimball, but it has to be as natural and spontaneous as he was. Hell Heber, Mormons seem to have a fear of anything even approaching a swear word. Blogging can’t be formal, and it has to be who you are. You might run the real risk of being on a tightrope by expressing your real views (if they differ from “the Brethren”), but that’s how bloggers live, on the edge, by exposing themselves to the world at the real risk of being misunderstood, and even labelled. Real blogging isn’t for the faint-hearted. But anything less than that will be like the “chattering classes”, which we in Oz use to describe academics who only talk to other academics, or “Brights” who only talk to other “Brights”, and perhaps Mormons who only talk to other Mormons. They are up in the clouds and seem to have little practical understanding of what goes on in the real world.

  24. I would just like to point out that I already did the J. Golden Kimball thing.

  25. Ray Agostini says:

    Thanks for the link, William, another one to check out.

  26. I rarely comment on the mainstream media sites, for all the reasons Kevin Barney has mentioned. Half the Mormons there sound like mindless automatons, and the other half stumbling apologetics that no one is really listening to. And the non-Mormon commenters, well, suffice it to say that most of them don’t seem to be either listening or at all informed. More than once, I’ve done exactly as Mark B suggests, and feel much better after (type & delete; repeat until calm).

    I maintain semi-stealth status. Anyone who knows me can put two and two together, and figure out who I am. I’ve disclosed my secret identity to anyone who directly asks. But by using a name and initial, I maintain some deniability, mostly because I have been a bishop. While I try to never disclose any confidential information, it’s best if I keep it all somewhat murky. Perhaps it’s being somewhat disingenuous; I hope not. This has been too important a resource for me to withdraw completely from.

  27. I think there may be two different answers here. If my calling was PR Rep I would feel a little more responsible to stick to very basic answers. If it were just plain old me, I would take the above advice to be candid about my personal experiences. Though, I don’t know what direction the church is giving these PR Reps. Maybe they want them to be candid and personal. If it were a calling, I would feel an obligation to honor what had been asked of me. Personally I would be as open a book as I could be.

    In either case, arguing and defensiveness are stumbling blocks. And, for sure, don’t profess to know things you don’t understand. Also, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know”. Made up answers born of being backed into a corner can do a lot of damage and are nigh unto impossible to retract. Don’t be the source of even more ignorance.

  28. Randall says:

    Having lived away from Utah for most of my adult life, I’ve been the token Mormon in many settings. For a long time when I was going through a disaffection with the church I would answer everyone’s questions in the 3rd person (i.e. “Mormons believe this…” or “Church leaders would say this…”). I didn’t really put down the church, but also didn’t stand up for us either.

    These days I’m tempted to give a qualified answer when people ask if I’m Mormon (i.e. Yes, but…) However, now I just let the chips fall, people ask me more questions and my personal beliefs come out.

  29. Steve Evans says:

    “Can I barge in here as an online observer of commentary on all things Mormon?”

    Gee Ray, sure. And the rest of us are…….?

  30. Ray Agostini says:

    Gee Ray, sure. And the rest of us are…….?

    True Believers?

  31. Bye bye, Ray.

  32. Steve Evans says:

    re: True Believers, here’s Ray A.’s view on those, and a little background in case BCC readers are curious as to why J. says bye:

    The “true believer” is really an unstable person, basing his reality on what he believes, and not on what has genuine merit. Everything in life is gauged on whether it matches up to his Mormon beliefs. This is truly sad. I’m glad I moved on from this “baby story”, and that is all it is. A fundamental view of life boosted my religious mythology, one that you are continually trying to put square pegs into round holes.

    Good luck with this. Hopefully one day you’ll explore beyond the parameters of your patently obvious religious mythology, and appreciate the diversity of life in our universe. In that day, your “corner” of truth will be seen for what it is: Self Interest. No more, no less.

    I am thankful for the temporary release Mormonism was, and thankful that I no longer have to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

  33. Gee, Steve, you get all the best commenters …

  34. Ardis, if you build it they will come. “They” in this case refers to fire ants and other nuisances, apparently.

  35. I never, ever read mainstream media comments on articles about Mormonism. When I’m angry about the church (about 50% of the time) I write about it where the other angry people are. When I’m more mellow and accepting about the church, I write here (and other bloggernacle places). I’m ambivalent enough that the last thing I want to have to do is argue…I might find myself on the other side within a day or so.

    Plus, my husband doesn’t read angry sites, so it spares him.

    Besides, the MSM sites quickly degenerate into statements like

    &^*&(ing cult
    TOTAL Church on the Earth Today, with whom the Lord, etc.
    is not
    is too

    etc. Yawn.

  36. “They” in this case refers to fire ants and other nuisances, apparently.

    Does this mean that Steve is a Crazy Rasberry Ant driving out the fire ants? This is like Discovery Channel.

  37. Nah, Kaimi, those are fundamentalist ants: “It’s a very fecund species, with multiple queens,” Mr. Meyers said.

  38. This makes the description more accurate, Ardis, not less.

    Or haven’t you heard of Steve’s new ranching digs in unincorporated land outside the Seattle burbs? They’re calling it, “Evansville” . . .

  39. Ray A.’s comment posted by Steve in #32 violates his numbers 2 and 5 in his comment #23. That makes me laugh.

  40. StillConfused says:

    #28 – My response is “I am an east coast Mormon.” People in Utah seem to understand what that implies.

    I would like to vent a little. Sort of on-topic. So I am in the midst of a major remodel project. This includes re-sodding my yard. When the sod is purchased, it needs to be put down in a reasonable amount of time. So that is what I spent my weekend doing. Everyone who lives in my ward passes by my house on their way home. (I am at the front of the road.) Only one man offered to help and even when he called others, none were able to provide me any assistance. (Which is fine, I enjoy these projects.) In any event, I was unable to attend Church Sunday morning. Today, as I am working in the yard in the evening after work, a neighbor man drives by in his new Corvette and waves me over to give me a hard time about not attending Church on Sunday. I politely pointed out that I had my hands full. What I would have loved to have done was to shout where is his Christianity. But I was raised better than that. I just went back to working on my yard. P.S., my only neighbor that routinely chats with me etc is my Catholic neighbor. Hmmmmm…..

  41. Kaimi,
    Didn’t Evansville sing that “Forever Young” song they couldn’t stop playing at Jr. High dances?

  42. “Everyone who lives in my ward passes by my house on their way home.”

    I guess you don’t live in Ohio.

  43. Ray,

    That would be more like “Everyone who lives in my ward passes by my township”.

  44. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 35

    What does MSM mean? Sounds vaguely sinful.

  45. kenjebz says:

    When I post comments to the MSM news, I would usually start, I am a Mormon, and I am not an American… so somehow this may catch their attention. We are so surprised how the American MSM are so ill informed about the Church, its doctrine or its people, or they are just skewing the truth? I define myself for who I am, A Filipino Mormon, stand true to what I believe, and try my best to enlighten others. They are entitled to their opinion, but most of the time, they are not expressing their opinions, but plain biases and seems athey know the truth about LDS. Hey MSM browse or come to BCC so you’ll know!

  46. Mike (44): MSM throws me for a loop every time I see it. I usually think “Men who have Sex with Men” instead of “MainStream Media.”

  47. #46 – There’s a difference?

    Sorry; even hearing Limbaugh’s voice on the radio as you scan channels can have a lasting effect.

  48. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 47
    Ouch! I resemble that comment.
    Besides, Rush Limbaugh is all yours, Ray. Best that he stays on the radio. You should encourage the gay community to provide more reporters; at least they’re easier on the eye.

  49. I tend to avoid the Utah media comment sections. Most especially the KSL message board.

    I believe there are aspects of online communication that lend into the chaos. There is a lack of visual and auditory clues which we depend on in face to face conversation. Emoticons can only go so far.

    Internet users also tend to project. We can easily hear what we want to hear or how we expect to hear, or carry our current mood into the “voice” of someone else.

    Psychologist John Suler described a “disinhibition effect” where people may say things online they’d never say in person. (This cuts both ways, some are more negative, some may be less shy, etc.) He cites a few features of online communication that heighten the effect.

    He mentions anonymity and invisibility; you can be who you want. This can also cause a “neutralizing of status” where people are on more of a level playing field. People may not know or care that you have a PhD, and they’ll treat you accordingly. Suler mentions “delayed reactions,” where people can post thoughts immediately and then leave. A sort-of emotional hit-and-run, he calls it. Also, there is a perception that the interaction is happening in your head. A make-believe dialogue. (I am reminded of the girl who committed suicide after discovering an online myspace boy was the mother of a school rival.)

    Online communication in general is an interesting phenomenon and I hope to see more studies on it.

  50. Junior high dances, Brad? You’re a sprout.

    Evansville also sang “Big in Japan.” You really haven’t lived until you’ve heard Steve singing “Big in Japan” over a bouncy synth-pop beat.

  51. You really haven’t lived until you’ve heard Steve singing “Big in Japan” over a bouncy synth-pop beat.

    For any who have not been privileged to encounter this magic, the wonders of modern technology have allowed us a window to Steve’s performance.

    Take it away, Steve.

  52. Psychologist John Suler described a “disinhibition effect” where people may say things online they’d never say in person. (This cuts both ways, some are more negative, some may be less shy, etc.)

    Sounds like online commenting has the same effect on the human brain as alcohol . . .

  53. #47 – Mike, that was NOT a positive comment about Limbaugh’s voice. It has an effect, but so does a chainsaw. *grin*

  54. But in all seriousness:

    You can always look to President Hinckley for cues on how to present the church publicly. GBH didn’t usually shy away from historical and doctrinal issues (e.g., he voluntarily brought up Adam-God theory in a few interviews), but he also seemed to downplay past problems (e.g., the priesthood ban is “behind us”), and he was often surprisingly tentative on some topics (e.g., he “didn’t know” whether homosexuality is innate).

    GBH seemed to have a deep appreciation for our history, but also seemed to focus on how mainstream we really are. His approach may or may not suit everyone’s tastes, but it is an example that is hard to ignore.

    Thankfully, most of us will never bear the burden of speaking for the church in such an official capacity as he did.

  55. If I ever have to define myself online, I usually say I’m a Mormon housewife into doom metal. It says so much with so little.

  56. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 51
    That guy really does kinda look like Steve, doesn’t he?

  57. 1. Don’t bother with the comments section on a major news blog.

    It’s generally all rubbish. Trolls come out in full force on major newspaper blogs – especially whenever Mormons are the topic. You’ll get all sorts of bigoted anti-Mormon comments. Don’t waste time trying to read them. Make your comment and leave.

    2. Don’t “bear your testimony.”

    Standard, first-Sunday-of-the-month style testimonies are premised on personal contact, where you can see the testifier’s emotions, feel their personality, and generally “feel” the strength of their convictions.

    All of that is lost online. All anyone is going to see is some brainless religion zombie who refuses to address the issues, and made several misspellings in their post. You do the faith no favors. So save the “Joseph was either a true prophet or a liar” stuff for Fast and Testimony Meeting. It doesn’t work here.

    3. Don’t take things personally.

    Around here, the first person to lose her cool loses. Ignore the incendiary stuff, and make points of clarification.

    4. Talk to the reasonable people and ignore the idiots.

    Usually online, even when there is a some raving ex-Mormon nutcase shouting at you, there are a lot more lurkers who are fairly reasonable people. They aren’t taking the anti-Mormon screecher seriously. If you do, it makes you lose credibility in their eyes. It becomes more a case of “let’s sit back and watch the idiots slap each other.”

    Speak to the silent rational majority. You roll around with a pig, you both get dirty. Ignore the nuts and make the sort of points you think intelligent and reasonable people would like to hear. You’ll have a lot more credibility.

    5. Keep your comments short.

    Very few people are going to want to wade through a full-blown essay. Especially at comment 104.

    Follow those guidelines and you’ll do fine in the major media comments sections. Just make sure you don’t get sucked-into a never-ending argument. It’s not worth it.

  58. Seth R.: An excellent bit of advice.

  59. Lindsay says:

    Alphaville, not Evansville.