I am a social media addict, but not in a bad way. It’s just that when I want to know what’s going on in the world, I don’t turn on the TV, I pull up Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. At 800 million users, if Facebook were a country, it’d have the third largest population in the world (behind China and India, both over a billion). So, I’m sure you’re already familiar with it. But I’m always surprised when people don’t know what Twitter is or how it works. Especially Catholics, because for me and a bunch of us here at ACNM, Twitter is an essential tool in our New Evangelization mission and personal education.
Although Twitter is only an eighth of the size of Facebook, it’s hard to know how many people exactly utilize it because you don’t always need an account to see what’s going on if the individual’s profile is public. Add in how much Corporate America and News Media (mainstream and otherwise) have embraced Twitter, I wonder if there’s any person in this country who isn’t touched by it.
When I want to learn more about my faith, both in apologetics and current events, I pull up Twitter. I can not tell you how much information there is to be learned by this means. Actually, here, let me show you. This is my personal feed of just Catholic organziations and news agencies. Pull it up and see for yourself (no account needed): https://twitter.com/#!/bluelaurels/catholic-orgs
Here’s my list of Catholic individuals: https://twitter.com/#!/bluelaurels/catholic-peeps. It’s like walking into a very crowded room and everyone’s talking Catholic. Cool, huh?
Writing and Reading Tweets
Twitter is what’s known as a micro-blogging service. This article is a blog. It’s hosted on a website and there is a feed of posts. Twitter is the same thing, but the size of the blog posts is limited to 140 characters – enough room for your username and a single text message. Hence, the “micro” part of the name.
To grasp how Twitter works, think of a celebrity or public servant. In this example, I’ll use the USCCB. Their username, or “handle” is USCCB. If a person want’s to follow everything the USCCB has to say, they Follow the USCCB’s Handle. (Currently there are 11,734 followers for the USCCB.) When the USCCB has something they want to share, they write a post, or Tweet, keeping in mind the 140 character limit. Then that Tweet shows up on all their followers’ home pages (“Feed“).
Think of the Pope on the balcony as he addresses the crowds outside St. Peter’s. The Pope is the user, the crowd is the followers, and the speech is a tweet. Got it? Good, because here’s where I’m going to add the next big element.
Twitter isn’t just speeches; Twitter is conversations. So while users can speak their mind, they can also speak to specific people. The ampersat is used to signal that your tweet is directed at that person. So if I wanted to ask the USCCB a question, I put an ampersat before their username in my tweet and then type the rest of my message.
That’s what’s known as a Mention. You can use it two ways: either in a direct inquiry as above, or if I just want to refer my followers to a specific user’s account.
“The @USCCB is located in Washington, DC.”
Because of this use, that’s why you always see people just using @username to share their handles. It’s common knowledge that the @ signifies a Twitter handle.
Hitting the Reply button above, is just a shortcut where Twitter automatically includes that person’s @username for you.
But what if you want to have a conversation with more than one person about the same topic? Enter the “#”. Hashtags are major part of Twitter’s functionality. It’s a way to categorize your tweets. Hashtags are searchable, so you can see what everyone has to say about a certain topic. Check out what people all over the world have to say about #catholic: https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23catholic.
Also, groups of people specify a hashtag to identify themselves and use it when they want to tweet to people who have similar interests but don’t necessarily know each other. For example, people who attend CatholiCon use #catholicon to share stuff: https://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/%23catholicon
Hashtags can also be humorous. #FirstWorldProblems is a longtime favorite: https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23firstworldproblems
So, say you find something interesting and you want to share it with your followers? The formula used to be “RT username [copy/paste tweet here]” but most programs now have it automatically. In the USCCB example above, there’s a Retweet button that you just have to click.
Because Twitter is an never-ending feed, it’s easy to lose track of a special tweet that you really like, or has information that you need to pull up later. Hitting the Favorite button on a tweet puts it on a special queue for you to refer back to later. It’s also highlighted with a gold star.
Why Twitter is Important
Twitter’s power, and mass appeal, comes from it’s mobility. Twitter gets information to the world, instantly. Before “apps” were the way everyone used their cell phone’s functionality, text messaging was the primary means of communicating. You can (still) have a user’s tweets sent to your phone via text message, or post your own messages to Twitter via text message. With the rise of the smartphones however, it seems that cell phone apps are the primary way for using Twitter. Either way, as I go out and about, I always have a means of sharing what’s going on to my followers because I always have my cell phone with me.
“Live Tweeting” is when you go to an event, and tweet highlights of the event as it happens. For example, every month ACNM live-tweets the monthly Theology on Tap hosted by the Diocese of Austin. We use #ATXTOT to categorize these tweets. Check ’em out: https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23atxtot And since it’s a hashtag, other people who are at that event can contribute their impressions as well. Imagine what it would have been like to read first-hand accounts of people live tweeting historical events such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, or from the Titanic, or from the moon landings. (What if in the future, we’re tweeting from the first manned mission to Mars?!)
Why Twitter is Important to Catholics
Catholics the world over have embraced Twitter. Bishops tweet, Catholic news agencies tweet, parishes and dioceses tweet, and lots of Catholic lay people and religious tweet. And I like to think it all serves a purpose: To glorify the Lord and to bring people to Him. Like I said before, Twitter is a tool. Maybe someone who has never considered any kind of religion likes what you have to say about Christmas. What if that tweet is the spark that the Holy Spirit uses to soften that person’s heart and begin his or her spiritual journey? Or what if a fellow Catholic is struggling and a tweet about #forgiveness inspires them? The possibilities are endless.
We’re all called to do missionary work through our baptism. If that work happens to be in the Twitter-sphere, here’s a few favorites to get you started.
- @AustinCNM – Austin Catholic New Media’s handle
- #ATXTOT – Tweets from the monthly Diocese of Austin Theology on Tap
- @USCCB – United States Council of Catholic Bishops
- @news_va_en – The Vatican News Agency’s English feed
- @AustinDiocese – The Diocese of Austin
- @CatholicNewsService – Religious news