MARCH 14, 2013

The rapid ascension of Cardinal @JMBergoglio

When the name of the new Pope was announced from the balcony of the Vatican a great silence fell on St. Peter’s Square. Nobody knew Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio; the cardinals had gone “to the end of the world to get him.”

The digerati immediately wanted to know if he had a Twitter account or if he was on Facebook. At the time of the announcement, the account @JMBergoglio only had 785 followers. The digital editors of the Wall Street Journal and Reuters immediately welcomed this trendy Pope who seemingly already had his own Twitter account. The British Embassy to the Holy See congratulated the new Pope @JMBergoglio and even a Twitter employee fell into the trap: the account was fake, but had amassed nearly 100,000 subscribers in less than an hour!

Since the account is in Spanish, nobody had actually bothered to translate previous tweets like this one sent on 28 February 2013: “If I’m the new pope, children will love me more than Santa Claus”. A quick glance at the messages would have sufficed to debunk the account as a fake. Probably blinded by the white smoke, few journalists paid attention to these unorthodox tweets. Three hours later, Twitter suspended the account and put an end to the confusion.

Tech blog Mashable welcomed the Cardinal Bergolio’s Facebook page with 40,000 subscribers. A closer look at the page shows that, while not being a parody, it is far from being an official page for the Diocese of Buenos Aires, but merely a fan page set up by two supporters of the cardinal who have seen 100,000 new fans flocking to the page.

It is frightening to see that in the heat of the action journalists failed to check their sources and tweeted unverified news on their personal Twitter accounts to tens of thousands followers. When all that needed to be done was to check the list of the 17 tweeting cardinals  curated by Antonio Spadaro, communications consultant at the Vatican. Cardinal Bergoglio was clearly absent from the Twitter list. In the future the Vatican should maintain such a cardinal Twitter lists so that we can check with ease against fake accounts.

Less than an hour after his accession to the papacy, @Pontifex sent his first tweet, retweeted over 77,000 times: “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM”. There are two problems with this personal papal message: it is written in the ‘majestic plural’, which comes across a little patronising, and in capital letters, which indicates that the Pope is shouting. This Twitter blunder can probably be attributed to the excitement of the papal community manager. It would have been better if he had live-tweeted Pope Francis’ first words:“Brothers and sisters, (…) pray for me”.Less than an hour after his accession to the papacy, @Pontifex sent his first tweet, retweeted over 77,000 times: “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM”. There are two problems with this personal papal message: it is written in the ‘majestic plural’, which comes across a little patronising, and in capital letters, which indicates that the Pope is shouting. This Twitter blunder can probably be attributed to the excitement of the papal community manager. It would have been better if he had live-tweeted Pope Francis’ first words:“Brothers and sisters, (…) pray for me”.

Read some of the congratulatory messages from world leaders including the Spanish cheers from Latin American presidents to their first Pope on Storify.

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