Pope Benedict XVI sent his first tweet on Wednesday, and he already has over one million Twitter followers! (In case you’re wondering, he did not take part in the latest Twitter fad and pay money to purchase these followers.)
The 85-year-old Benedict tapped the screen of an iPad brought to him at the end of his general audience in Vatican City and an announcer proclaimed the imminent debut of His Holiness’s twitter account, @Pontifex, which means both “pope” and “bridge builder.”
“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,” the inaugural tweet read and was sent out in eight languages.
Well, maybe he’s didn’t actually do the tweeting himself.
Vatican officials have acknowledged the pope won’t actually type the messages and that someone in the Vatican’s secretariat of state will write them on his behalf. And so it happened on Wednesday: Benedict just tapped the screen on the tablet to send the inaugural tweet.
But about an hour later, a Vatican official tweeted a question that had been sent to the pope in the long run-up to the launch, asking his advice about how to be more faithful in daily life. “By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need,” the responding tweet read.
He does have some Twitter competition, though.
The most popular tweet so far this year is President Obama’s “Four more years” message after his reelection, which was retweeted 816,000 times, making it the most repeated tweet this year; coming in second is singer Justin Bieber’s “RIP Avalanna. i love you” message saying goodbye to a 6-year-old girl who died of cancer.
Still, maybe you think of Twitter primarily as the defender of free speech around the world, especially after its prominence in the Arab Spring uprisings last year.
As Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter’s chief lawyer said in a New York Times article:
We value the reputation we have for defending and respecting the user’s voice. We think it’s important to our company and the way users think about whether to use Twitter, as compared to other services.
We want to be useful to as many people as we can be useful to. We certainly do think about what is Twitter like for someone who has unpopular beliefs.
But with the recruitment of the pope, it’s clear that Twitter sees itself in many other strategic roles.
According to The Washington Post, Twitter is working hard to persuade some big names in sports, entertainment, government and yes, now religion, to use its services to promote themselves.
From The Washington Post:
In the six years since its launch, Twitter has amassed a voluntary corps of famed faces that includes Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, President Obama, the Dalai Lama, Neil Young and Snooki of “Jersey Shore” reality television fame. These ambassadors create a butterfly effect of interest that has fueled the San Francisco company’s explosive growth to 140 million active users.
They are, in Twitter corporate-speak, “high-touch” clients, the focus of about 20 employees who circle the globe in hopes of getting new and powerful recruits. They approach the world’s most influential people with promises of free marketing, extra security against impostors and training to avoid the gaffes that have embarrassed some business executives and members of Congress.
Demonstrating the success of their strategy, Twitter on Tuesday put out a list of new Twitter members in 2012, including Chelsea Clinton, former NFL quarterback Brett Favre and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The company is hoping that with the help of all these stars, it will be able to make big bucks by taking its users’ information and using it in advertising, as well as selling analytical information.
As for the Pope, can he really say a lot in 140 characters or less? Well yes: each of the Ten Commandments uses fewer characters.
You can reach His Holiness at www.twitter.com/pontifex. I wonder if he does confession via Twitter?
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Photo Credit: screenshot from CBS news