Tweeting Vitriol at the Pope
Ever since the Vatican announced the Holy Father was going to have his own Twitter account, it was a cause for concern: how should the Vatican deal with the abusive replies he could be expected to receive on his Twitter feed?
Twitter has no moderators, so is it right that the Vicar of Christ should be exposed to unlimited vitriol and abuse?
So far, most of the abusive replies to his tweets have been mild, juvenile stuff, probably written by adolescents who don’t know any better.
Some of the mockery could also have been easily avoided. For instance, to have the Holy Father tweet during his Q&A on the faith: “Any suggestions on how to be more prayerful when we are so busy with the demands of work?” prompted the amusing rejoinder: “Mate, if *you're* struggling...” Simply some indication that the tweet was a question from a fellow Twitter user would have resolved that, using the questioner's Twitter handle perhaps.
Others have made jokes about the fact that the Pope only follows himself on Twitter in the form of his seven other language accounts, leaving him open to the accusation that he doesn't appear very humble. But then the Dalai Lama follows no one, and as a Vatican official put it to me the other day, "Who else could the Pope follow apart from Christ Himself?"
But it’s the few serious and abusive tweets that are more interesting. They predictably dwell on the past weaknesses and sins of some of the Church’s members and then use them to attack the Church and the Pope. Others are just plain obscenities, like a demon might blurt out during an exorcism.
Greg Burke, senior adviser for communications to the Vatican, has said the Vatican is aware of this. “Twitter's an open platform, and we realized that going in to this,” he said, adding that in that sense, it’s similar to what he might encounter on a papal visit. “There may be a few dozen hecklers in the street, but millions of people come out because they love the Pope, or at least want to listen to him respectfully,” Burke said.
Although it would naturally be more pleasant for the Pope not to receive such comments, it could also be argued that they’re actually a healthy sign. The Devil hates the light, he hates the Pope. Something would be amiss if the Pope didn’t have enemies and everyone among his million-plus Twitter followers was his friend.
In any case, most of the responses have been loving and kind, and some Twitter users have even sought to engage the abusers. You could also argue that the advantages of Twitter in terms of evangelization far outweigh these risks. Probably the best response, therefore, is to simply ignore the vitriol, pray for the Holy Father’s detractors and pray for the Pope’s strength.