VATICAN CITY — Over the weekend some media announced that the Vatican had opened a Twitter feed. Intrigued, I quickly went to @vatican_va on Twitter. At first glance, it looked like the Vatican — there was the Vatican coat of arms, the Vatican flag and a link to the Vatican Web site. And hundreds of tweets in many languages, linking to Vatican Radio stories.
Then I e-mailed Father Federico Lombardi, who heads both the Vatican press office and Vatican Radio. I got a response rather quickly, and a surprising one. He said the Twitter feed was news to him, and that neither the press office nor Vatican Radio was doing the tweeting. A call to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications elicited a similar response: it wasn’t them, and they didn’t know who it was.
Hmmm. This was beginning to look more and more like online impersonation. Perhaps not the first, either: I knew there was already a @vaticanen Twitter feed that also identified itself as “Vatican” without, as far as I knew, any authorization.
A few more calls around the Vatican this morning elicited more surprise and some concern. I have the impression that Vatican Radio may be seriously considering a Twitter feed, and doesn’t like being hijacked like this.
At this point, no one I’ve spoken with here has any idea who’s tweeting for the Vatican. More as it develops…
UPDATE: The Vatican_va tweeter appears to have been silenced. No tweets on http://twitter.com/vatican_va since Monday afternoon. Yesterday someone at the Vatican told me this tweeter wouldn’t be posting for long … and he was right. The whole episode has prompted some Vatican media people to remark, “It wasn’t us — but it should have been us.” So don’t be surprised to see a real Vatican Twitter feed in the future.
Some may be aware of a similar Twitter account that calls itself “popebenedictxvi“. It posted quite a few items last year about papal activities, gained more than 3,700 followers, and then fell quiet until recently. This tweeter, though, states clearly near the top of the page: “This is not an official Vatican service. I’m just a fan doing his part to spread the word.” And his latest tweet, sent Jan. 24 after the pope issued his World Communications Day message on new media, issues this invitation: “If anyone at the Vatican would like to claim this Twitter acct, pls Direct Message me.” That seems like an offer too good to refuse.
SECOND UPDATE: OK, @vatican_va is back tweeting like crazy again, though it looks like whatever automated system he/she is using to link to Vatican Radio stories is having some hiccups. I really wish there were a way to identify the people behind Twitter accounts.