The Pope Pops up on Twitter: Religion and Social Networking

by Matt Klassen on December 17, 2012

It looks like Pope Benedict XVI is giving a new definition to the word ‘followers,’ as the initial tweet of the Pontiff of the Catholic faith gathered more than a million faithful this past week. His much anticipated inaugural tweet read: “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.” Notably hitting the Twitter character cap right on the money.

The post marked the inclusion of yet another monumental global personality, with Benedict practically the last of the spiritual giants of our age to share his thoughts in 140 characters or less. In fact, according to the UK media outlet The Guardian, Twitter actually actively seeks out high profile people like spiritual leaders to create accounts, sending a Twitter envoy to the Vatican to convince to the Pontiff to sign up.

But before you get excited that the Catholic church has finally entered the social age, this once again strikes me as nothing more than a publicity stunt, as the problem with social media is that we’re never really sure who’s at the other end. Sure it’s nice to think you’re connecting with the Vicar of Christ in real time, but the truth of the matter is, he’s probably got better stuff to do.

At the outset I will say that it’s about time the Pope got himself on a social network, given that other spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama have had a strong Twitter presence for several years now. The truth of the matter is that social networking is becoming the primary way to connect with people, and if religious institutions hope to create, develop, and maintain that connection with its faithful followers they must learn to effectively traverse the social networking scene.

But the thing that has always bothered me about social networks like Twitter is their general anonymity. Sure Twitter has confirmed that the eight @Pontifex accounts are the Vatican chief’s new multi-language Twitter feeds, but that certainly doesn’t mean that Pope Benedict XVI will ever have anything to do with them.

In fact, following the Pontiff’s inaugural tweet the Vatican admitted that the maintenance of the account would be handed off to some lesser lights in the Catholic world–no doubt to some technology savvy priests who now has to fit in some tweets and Facebook posts sometime between Matins and Lauds–with promises that Benedict will certainly receive the tweets…or at least the gist of them.

While I’m sure many of us take for granted the fact that larger than life personalities like the Pope simply don’t have time to maintain their own social networks, it does strike me as somewhat fraudulent, given that significantly less people would follow the Pontiff’s account if they were told that the advice and blessings they were receiving were from some junior priest in training and not from the Vicar of Christ.

But that seems to be the reality of the Twitter-verse, with celebrities, personalities, and spiritual leaders all content to let the press secretaries, publicists, and personal assistants handle the menial tasks of social networking. If only they truly realized the power and potential these mediums offer, perhaps then we’d see the frequent public addresses from the Vatican replaced by a stronger online real time presence of the Pope…so long as he doesn’t send me invites to FarmVille.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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