The Pope joins Twitter #HabemusPapam

The Pope joins Twitter #HabemusPapam December 13, 2012

Even though the Pope joining Twitter has been news for weeks, I was still surprised at what a big story it was yesterday. I’ve been on Twitter for years (joined the morning after an epic anti-Twitter rant at the local pub) and I don’t even have 4,000 followers. Even before the Pope had issued his first tweet, he had more than 1 million followers. He tweeted his first item yesterday. Or as Rocco Palmo put it, #HabemusPapam.

And yes, everyone got super excited. The cool thing was that there was some really great coverage of the piece. And I’m not talking about The Onion‘s hilarious “Pope To Identify With Catholic Youth By Giving Up On Catholicism” satire. We’ll get to the better stuff in a minute.

One religion reporter sent us something that she thought was not so hot. She was too kind. It read like it was written by a teenager who thinks he’s a lot funnier than than he is. Headlined, “Mockery outweighs piety after pope’s Twitter debut,” the AFP story begins:

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI’s debut on Twitter got off to a bumpy start on Wednesday, with mockery outweighing piety in reaction to the first tweets from the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics.

The pope’s second tweet — “How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?” — prompted a string of tongue-in-cheek- answers.

“With some nice cold chocolate milk. And the Lord?” wrote one user tweeting in Portuguese with the handle @tensoblog.

Another distinctly sin-minded user, @binnie, joked: “Hookers and blow.”

Hardy har har har har har. Anyway, the claim made by the news outlet is that mockery outweighed piety. The story doesn’t even come close to substantiating this claim. It doesn’t even try. It leaves out information that might have thrown the claim into question. For instance, there’s no mention that the Pope had, say, 50,000+ “retweets” or close to 20,000 “favorites.”

Is a story about the friendly jokes — and the unfriendly mockery — worthwhile? Perhaps. Perhaps that’s what you want to emphasize. But to claim that the Pope’s Twitter debut got off to a rocky start and that mockery outweighed other reactions is more media wishful thinking than reality. Let’s stick to reality in journalism, please. And if you do want to do a story about people who curse, mock, tweet risque pictures at the Pope, could you at the very least move it beyond the “OMG! Naughty words to B16!” level of discourse? What does this say about people who would do such a thing? How does it make Catholics feel? What do the Pope’s people think about this? Etc.

Leading up to the big day of the Pope’s first tweet, I rather enjoyed this whimsical take on “Spiritual wisdom in 140 characters or less,” first published in the Plain Dealer and sent out by Religion News Service. The Washington Post had an interesting take last week headlined “Ask the pope @pontifex: With Twitter account, Benedict XVI just a tweet away.” It’s about how the Twitter account makes him more reachable. Sarah Pulliam Bailey also had a look forward at Odyssey Networks.

The Washington Post had a different take yesterday, noting that the first tweet from Benedict came about because of Twitter outreach:

It may look as if Pope Benedict XVI’s first tweet on the auspicious date of 12/12/12 will be a divine act. But orchestrating the pontiff’s debut on Twitter has been a far more earthbound effort, involving an elaborate behind-the-scenes production…

The effort is part of Twitter’s powerful — not to mention low-cost — strategy to expand its influence and rack up more users by getting the world’s biggest names in sports, Hollywood, government and religion onto the Internet’s leading megaphone for self-promotion.

But man is that a bad opening line, right? Why would it look like a divine act? Why is 12/12/12 “auspicious”?

The Post‘s On Faith section also had a great reaction roundup from a variety of different observers. Sample:

Matt Archbold writes for the National Catholic Register and blogs at the Creative Minority Report.

The pope’s Twitter feed is going live. I’m excited. While this is an excellent opportunity for young Catholics to encounter the church’s teachings, I suspect that this open line of communication will be utilized by some to be able to curse directly at the pope. Do you know how many four-letter words you can fit in a 140 character limit? I don’t have a calculator handy but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot!

But Christians are quite familiar with lion’s dens. Have been for a while. And let’s face it, real lions don’t just curse in ALL CAPS and use clever hashtags.

But the pope getting on Twitter does raise some interesting issues. If you don’t retweet the pope, is that a sin of omission?

If the pope “follows you” doesn’t that really set the Church hierarchy upside down? Do I really want that kind of responsibility? I don’t even have a mitre.

And if you get blocked by the pope is that a 21st century form of excommunication? Are we really about to see the birth of the excommunitweet? Because that would actually be pretty awesome.

Among his other observations are that the Beatitudes are written in 140 characters or less.

Actually, rather than doing this entire roundup, I should have just directed you to Cathy Lynn Grossmann’s comprehensive look in USA Today at the Benedict’s first day on Twitter. She looks at whose questions got asked, the specifics of how questions to the pope got answered, the Vatican’s use of Twitter up to this point, selections from Archbold’s comments, and more.


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6 responses to “The Pope joins Twitter #HabemusPapam”

  1. Mollie, what’s really sad about this is the flippancy and shallowness of the coverage. The Vatican is walking a narrow line. How can it use new media to its benefit and still maintain its ancient dignity? I remember when Bishop Sheen had his TV show (popular with many Protestants, too). He did very well with the new medium of TV. But it was a different culture then. And he had more than 140 characters to deliver his message. Bobby’s post about “Merry F Word” seems a fitting segue. At the risk of sounding as old as I am, things have gotten so coarse, so rude, so disrespectful.

    In matters of religion, there will always be disputed matters, and important differences are not best handled by syncretism or pretending they don’t exist. But I am grateful that you and so many on this forum are so decent and respectful in your coverage of the RC Church, even when you are being critical of it.

  2. This line from Matt Archbold makes me wonder how the writer made it through college:
    “Do you know how many four-letter words you can fit in a 140 character limit? I don’t have a calculator handy but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot!” You need a calculator to do basic division ??
    Um … 140 divided by 4 = 35 …

  3. “It may look as if Pope Benedict XVI’s first tweet on the auspicious date of 12/12/12 will be a divine act.”

    This is just typical of the way the Pope is treated in the media. He’s not magic and he isn’t divine. Doh! He’s a human being. Even Dante indicated the many bishops and Popes in hell. This comment is related to the common misunderstanding of the extremely rare claim of infallibility. It is often confused with impeccability and divine powers of various sorts.

  4. From the Post:

    The Catholic Church said Bene­dict’s Twitter event…

    What the heck does that mean? The Catholic Church is a community. Clerics say things, lay folk say things… communities do not say things! Usually, “The Catholic Church ” seems to mean “Some Catholic authority” or, occasionally “Some Catholic cleric we agree with”. But in this case, who is “the Catholic Church” that’s saying something about the pope doing something.

    There, that’s off my chest.

  5. For that matter, what is “divine event” supposed to MEAN? It is implausible that even a journalist is equating it with “miracle”.