The Internet has become both a blessing and a curse for Freemasonry. On one hand, the Internet is a tool of immeasurable value to those that are involved in research and writing about the world’s oldest fraternity. Imagine what Albert G. Mackey could have done if he had the Internet! The World Wide Web provides a quick and easy way for Freemasons to communicate over great distances and to keep current on the various activities of the fraternity. On the other hand, the Internet also makes it easy for clandestine masons and those who oppose Freemasonry to express their views – sometimes in a disproportionately loud manner – to the unsuspecting public. Recognized Freemasons – if they are not sufficiently knowledgeable and careful – can also often be trapped into discussing Freemasonry in an inappropriate manner.
Let this be made clear – Freemasonry can not be practiced on the Internet. There are, however, Internet sites that have Freemasonry as their predominant subject material. This is often commonly referred to as e-Masonry. Most readers will already be familiar with the websites that belong to Grand Lodges, subordinate lodges, and appendant bodies. Those types of sites are not the subject of this piece as we all know about those sites and their purposes. Many readers will also be familiar with the conspiracy theory and anti-masonic sites and, since those can not be considered as containing accurate information about Freemasonry, they will also not be examined in this article.
The push to discuss and form connections about Freemasonry on the Internet has blossomed in the last decade or so. The somewhat legendary CompuServe Masonry Forum existed until at least 2001 and gave birth to much of what is often called e-Masonry. From this, Masonic forums blossomed and personal websites were created in an ever evolving landscape in cyberspace.
The situation today finds a variety of e-Masonry sites. The ones that most folks come into contact with are the forums and it is in these sites that many Masons first experience e-Masonry – often leading to other Internet sites and ventures. There are a variety of forums that are oriented toward Freemasonry, of which The Sanctum Santorum and the Mastermason.com Forums are but two examples.
Beyond the forums, one can find the personal websites, of which there are many. An example of one of the longest running can be found in Anti-Masonry: Points of View, which makes a point of exposing anti-masonic rhetoric as well as bogus or quasi-masonic organizations. Anti-Masonry is now in its eleventh year of existence. The Masonically inclined personal websites multiplied drastically as people discovered the ease and cheapness of using existing blog services. Such services as Blogger and WordPress gave even the most website design challenged folks an easy way to share their message. One of the more popular examples of these types of sites can be found at Freemasons for Dummies. Even some Grand Lodge officers have began to use blogs to communicate their messages to their jurisdictions and with others. An example of this can be found at Grand Master’s Musings.
Despite the perceived popularity of e-Masonry, the most prolific forum posters and the website owners represent a very small percentage of Freemasons. This relatively small group of e-Masons has, over time, loosely organized itself into an online community by way of cross links to each other’s sites and cross posting of various articles. One can go to a variety of forums and sites that allow outside comments and find the same screen names over and over. This has resulted in a loose nucleus of sites and Internet personalities that could be thought of as the unofficial news network for Freemasonry. The King Solomon’s Lodge Blog Aggregator is representative of one useful method that has loosely tied these sites together.
As should have been expected, this relatively small group of e-Masons began to talk by using various voice programs available – ultimately leading to podcasts such as Masonic Central. These podcasts are often populated by the very same nucleus of online personalities that are so often found in the forums and blogs.
Relatively recently, an effort to more formally organize some of these sites was undertaken and Freemason Information was the result. Freemason Information brought some of the more popular sites – all of which happened to be blogs – under one umbrella along with the Masonic Central podcast.
In what is probably the greatest concentration of serious online students, researchers, and writers of Freemasonry; a new research society – operating almost entirely on the Internet – was born not very long ago. The Masonic Society includes many of the “who’s who” of modern day Masonic researchers and operates its own forum for members only. The methodology of The Masonic Society has allowed it – best as is possible at this time – to solve the problems associated with anti-masons and clandestine masons on the Internet.
Due to the nature of their fraternity, Freemasons have understandably been hesitant to jump into the Internet world without caution. Like those that feel the need to spout anti-masonic rhetoric, people belonging to some of the clandestine, quasi-masonic bodies have never – for the most part – been constrained by this sense of caution. This resulted in a proliferation of sites and online personalities which represent irregular and unrecognized masons. As Freemasons explore their fraternity on the Internet, they can not help but to run into these types of sites and personalities. Therein is found one of the dangers of e-Masonry. The other danger arises when Freemasons – out of ignorance – engage in discussions that can be construed as Masonic communication of an unauthorized nature or divulge internal Grand Lodge or lodge business that should not be shared with the rest of the world.
There can be little doubt that Grand Lodges were caught off guard by the proliferation of e-Masonry. Quite frankly, the codes and constitutions of the various Grand Lodges were not written to directly deal with this phenomenon – though the obligations should be sufficient. The phenomenon is here, however, and time will tell whether Grand Lodges are able to effectively cope with it by way of education and guidance to their members – and it must be coped with in this age of an increasingly Internet savvy society where a young man will “Google” first and ask questions later.
The Internet is a tool and, like all tools, Freemasons must use it with caution and respect. Remember – a hammer can bless you with a properly driven nail or curse you with a busted thumb.