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The Pope Debuts on Twitter With an Odd Q&A

Published: December 13, 2012 | 8:04 am
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Pope Benedict XVI made his debut on Twitter yesterday, tweeting seven times over the course of seven hours and taking questions via the hashtag #AskPontifex. While the activity caused the Pope’s follower count to spike, it also featured a bizarre Q&A which could easily have been mistaken for a series of questions asked and answered by the Pope himself, as opposed to drawn from the masses he is hoping to reach through the platform.

Ten days ago, the Vatican launched eight Twitter accounts on behalf the Pope, all meant to post the same messages, but in eight different languages. Upon the launch, the Pope asked Twitter users to send him questions via the #AskPontifex hashtag and said he would answer a select few in the days ahead.

According to Twitter, tens of thousands of questions were submitted and yesterday the Pope posted three original questions and bite sized answers for each.

After posting an introductory tweet thanking people for responding to his call for questions, the Pope’s @Pontifex account posted the first question. “How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?” read the query. The Pope responded: “By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need.”

The Pope’s account did not mention that the question tweeted was asked by someone using the #AskPontifex hashtag, so to those without context it likely looked as if it was asked by the Pope himself. An official Twitter blog post later clarified that the question was asked by Spanish journalist José Calderero.

Here’s the original:

The @Pontifex account repeated the pattern twice more, posting a question from an American mother and another originally asked in Portuguese, according to the Twitter blog post. These questions too contained no identifying information about the people asking them.

There is certainly a level of sensitivity around statements made by the Pope (in this case, a Vatican official needed to state that the tweets sent by the Pope were not infallible), so perhaps that played a role in the decision not to retweet or @mention those asking the questions. Still, conducting a Q&A via hashtag without including that information felt bizarre in the hyperlinked world of Twitter.

Despite its shortcomings, the Q&A was another intriguing example of a big institution opening up and seeking to engage with its constituency on social media. The Pope, for his part, came away with over 300,000 more followers than he started the day with. We’ll see where the conversation goes from here.


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