Holy tweet! The Pope joins Twitter

The Holy Father, or his social media team, will be sending out messages in 8 languages. Is the Pope ready for the response?

By Jonathan Berr Dec 3, 2012 1:26PM
Pope Benedict XVI leaves at the end of a Vespers prayer in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 (Andrew Medichini/AP Photo)Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, is a busy man, but not too busy for Twitter and will begin posting messages on the microblogging site later this month.

Not to many of us can join Twitter and get some 152,000 followers without saying one word. But Benedict's followers are pouring in, eager to see what his first message will say.

This is a mixed blessing for the company.

On one hand, a tweeting Pope certainly provides the company validation for its product, which is a ubiquitous part of modern life. It also means that Twitter is getting a little more establishment, which might turn off some users. The Holy Father is hardly on the cutting edge and isn't in the youthful demographic coveted by advertisers. But if Facebook can survive being discovered by older people, Twitter will as well. 

Benedict wants to use Twitter to build bridges with his flock around the world through his @ponitfex account. His Holiness, or more likely a team of holy ghostwriters, will be tweeting in Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Arabic and French, according to Reuters, citing a press conference held by his "social media consultant." Though his goals are laudable, they are going to be difficult to achieve given the reality of social media.

Though people often liken the Internet to a "a marketplace of ideas", that overstates the case. At best, it's a convenience store or perhaps a delicatessen, and not a very nice one. Twitter encourages users to type first and think later, which is not always a good thing. The anonymity of the Internet also emboldens people to say rude things online to people that they would never have the courage to say them in person, even the Pope. Indeed, the 85-year-old pontiff may be shocked by volume, crudeness and banality of the messages that get posted by the 500 million or so people who use the San Francisco company's site.

Many of the questions that will be sent to the Pope at @askpontifex will likely touch on issues where some Catholics feel the church is out of touch with the modern world, such as contraception, gay rights and the ordination of women -- all of which will be hard to discuss in 140 characters or less. Some people will look to pick "Twitter fights" with the Pope, which can be entertaining to read but ultimately a waste of time for those involved. Some people, though, such as unemployed broadcaster Keith Olbermann, manage to squeeze these spats into their scheduled day.

By putting himself more on the public stage, Benedict may open himself up to ridicule. I am sure that Pope parody Twitter accounts are being created as I write this. A phony Queen Elizabeth has already chimed in, saying, "The Pope is on twitter. Let's hope it's not a parody. Can't stand those things." Piers Morgan bragged on Twitter that he has "30 times as many followers" as the Pope. Morgan has about 2.9 million followers. The Dalai Lama, though, beats them both and has 5.6 million.

Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberr.
 

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