Well, it’s official. The Pope is tweeting.
OK, Pope Benedict himself is not actually flipping out an iPhone and detailing his pre-Mass rituals like a linebacker on Sunday morning, but he is sending out “pearls of wisdom” from his official account, according to Vatican officials. These papal updates, which will actually be typed and sent out by members of his staff, will be pulled directly from his sermons.
According to the Pontiff’s Office, there is much power in a short, “proverb-like” statement. And though the holy tweets are not to be considered “infallible teachings” by the 1 billion people the Catholic church claims as followers, they are coming straight from the writings and teachings of the Pope.
Now that the Pope is on Twitter, what does that mean? Are we officially in a world where all pearls of wisdom need to be kept shorter than 140 characters? If one of the three or four most respected people on the planet has decided Twitter is a worthy vehicle of communication, does that pull Twitter out of the realm of noisy self-interest and into the world of legitimacy?
The Catholic church, along with other world religious organizations, is making a push to start including more forms of social media. Using YouTube channels and Facebook pages to promote events or ideas has allowed them to target younger audiences, a group of people always prone to questioning faith. Locally speaking, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also very effectively employs the use of social media (many would say the Mormon church pioneered the use of technology in spreading its message).
Twitter, much like Facebook or Instagram, is only gaining in legitimacy, but it is different from the other forms of social media in that it can be a very professional way to get information from Point A to Point B. Most media organizations estimate that Twitter currently has about 500 million active users, which is quite a lot, but less than you might think.
For those of you who are not familiar with this messaging service (and, again, there are probably more Signpost readers who don’t use Twitter than do), here’s a brief explanation of how and why it is used. Individual Twitter messages, more commonly known as “tweets,” are messages sent out to everyone following that specific messenger. Each message is limited to 140 characters, which, if you’re looking for an example in this paragraph, would only be as long as this sentence.
On the surface, a news feed filled with 140-character blurbs seems oddly superficial, and there’s no doubt that many Twitter feeds give in to the endless parade of narcissism which seems to consume other forms of social media. But Twitter has the redeeming quality of journalistic legitimacy, at least if the user is willing to go looking for tweeters.
Every major news source (e.g., The Associated Press, The New York Times, CNN, and local news organizations like The Signpost or Fox’s Twitter wizard Ben Winslow) has its own Twitter feed, updated frequently throughout the day. In this sense, Twitter can be one of the more objective sources of news, because of its immediacy. Events are covered as they are happening, not just reviewed that night on the local news show.
And Twitter is the perfect world for following specific news for specific areas of coverage. Sports fans who are tired of sifting through the entertainment-side of ESPN (another half hour on Tim Tebow!) can simply follow the country’s major sports reporters and athletes to find out, in short bursts of 140 characters, what is going on in the sports world. The same can be said for national politics, finance and entertainment. It also forces news followers into a broader spectrum of opinion on news, so long as they choose to follow a broader spectrum of experts.
Now organizations like the Catholic church are catching on and seeing the legitimacy of Twitter. Pope Benedict has no plans to officially tweet until Dec. 12, but his account is already bursting with followers. He’s already the odds-on favorite to reach 1 million followers by the end of the year.
And if that doesn’t speak to the legitimacy of Twitter, then nothing does.