Wednesday, 20 February 2013

What will happen to the Pope's Twitter account?

Pope Benedict XVI shocked the Catholic world on 13th of February with his resignation announcement, but the Catholics weren't the only ones left wondering.

A mere couple of months earlier, the Pope had joined Twitter, and gained over 70,000 vast amount of followers in mere hours, even before he had started tweeting. @pontifex, as the account is called, tweets religious statements and reflections and has posted 36 tweets to date.

But what made the Pope decide to join Twitter in the first place? Was it pressure from some sort of Catholic PR machine? A statement from the Vatican said

'The Pope's presence on Twitter is a concrete expression of his conviction that the Church must be present in the digital arena'

so perhaps the initiative was driven by his holiness afterall. The Pope's resignation, however, has been markedly absent from his feed and he has posted tweets about Lent since the announcement.


But the big question is - as with all temporary offices - what will happen to the Twitter account when he has left? Although the law may be yet to fully catch up with this, Twitter accounts are generally regarded as the property of the person that is named in the handle and whose email address is linked to it. If it is an official account run on behalf of a company it is the property of the organisation who employs the individual.

Some companies are become more and more savvy about this, with contractual clauses governing the retention of the accounts - meaning that any followers accrued are the 'contacts' of the company and cannot be 'poached' (or taken with) an individual when they leave.

In politics this can cause issues, for example the @MayorOfLondon account, and all it's 630,000+ Boris fans will all become property of the next mayor if Boris loses an election, as he has a role-related handle rather than a personal one.

For the Pope I suspect that the same will be the case. @pontifex (and also the 8 different language versions of the account) refers to his role rather than Pope Benedict as an individual, so it belongs to the Vatican and eventually the next Pope. Not that Benedict will mind I'm sure (some reckon it was Social Media that made him feel too old for the post in the first place!), but will the next Pope want to continue the tweeting?

A new Pope will undoubtedly be younger, as the Vatican will seek to prevent any more resignations and stay 'in touch' with the younger church, so I'd predict he will want to carry on tweeting. Watch this (140 character) space! 

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