Social Media & Mission Trips

Updated June 2024
May 2022

By Tory Ruark, Director, MissionExcellence

There are some things that change so fast, we can hardly keep up. When you first started traveling, you probably couldn’t even make a phone call home much less put a picture on a social media site. Digital cameras, the internet, smart phones, and now social media are creating new, complex situations for which we need to be prepared.

Social media represents both an opportunity and a danger. Its visibility can increase our reach and bring more resources to those who need it, but it can also be a danger to those who appear on it. It can help us build relationships with our partners, but it can also be a breeding ground for cultural misunderstandings and faux paus.

Recently, I’ve been able to communicate with a number of our members about their social media policies and I wanted to share some themes that I found that you may consider including in your program. These themes included:

  • set boundaries on access to keep participants present
  • be culturally sensitive when taking photos
  • get permission before taking someone’s picture and/or posting it
  • avoid identifying information such as name, age, or specific location that may put the person in the picture at risk
  • choose diverse pictures that accurately represent the culture
  • make sure pictures/posts tell the story you intend to tell
  • avoid pictures that create missionary saviorism
  • consider if the subject’s story is your story to tell

You probably noticed that the bullet points above are exclusively related to the activity of participants posting for their own audience. However, there is a new complexity that’s coming to light. Social media has opened a world of communication that’s unregulated, unintentional, unseen, and quite often unhealthy.

While we can’t control what anybody does on their own personal social media accounts, what can be done to minimize the risk and maximize the benefit? What training, policies, and procedures do we need to develop in this changing landscape?