Yesterday we learned that the long-promised official papal Twitter account – that is, an account used, or at least sanctioned by the pope – will become reality before the year is out. Pope Benedict XVI sent out a first tweet last year when he launched News.va, but he used the Vatican news account @news_va_en instead of a personal one. That is said to change within the coming two months, as a personal account will be created for the Holy Father, who will not be tweeting himself, though. But, we are told, he will approve every tweet being sent.
But what about the fake popes on Twitter? There are a fair number of those, using the name of Pope Benedict or some variation thereon. Some are sarcastic, humorous or vindictive, but more than one also offer serious Catholic news and opinion.
The Holy See has obviously also noticed all these and has said that it hopes that the launch of the official papal account will cause all the fake popes to “give up when they see the official site is up”, an unnamed official said, as CNS reports. There’s a problem there.
While Twitter has, as part of its policy, the option to block accounts that impersonate others, it also allows for harmless satire. An example is @Queen_UK, a satirical impersonation of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II. So similar accounts about or obviously pretending to be a humourous alter ego of the Holy Father would be safe.
Then there are the accounts using the pope’s name which offer serious news and opinion. Instead of cancelling these, I think a better solution would be to allow them to continue to offer their useful contributions, but perhaps under another name. Changing a username on Twitter is a fairly simple procedure and allows one to keep one’s followers.
Another important issue to consider is the content of the papal tweets. If the Vatican wants others to change something about other users on Twitter, it has to offer something similar. As it seems now, Pope Benedict will not be an avid Twitter user himself (and who can blame him, really?), but the few tweets we may expect on short notice will relate to what he says in audiences and other official functions. No personal tweets about what was served at the papal table or what the weather was like at Castel Gandolfo, then. Will the pope’s presence on Twitter make a huge impact as far as the content of tweets is concerned? Likely not, although the catechesis that Pope Benedict regularly offers at his Wednesday audiences certainly deserves a wider audience, for example. But it will not replace the contributions of others, who now tweet under the pope’s name. And that is again a reason to not ban these accounts, but at most ask them to change their name, so to avoid confusion.