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Social media connects world to conclave

Meghan Thomassen | Thursday, March 14, 2013

Although the College of Cardinals used a smoke signal Wednesday to signal its election of a new pope, the rest of the world relied on social media to stay updated on the conclave.

Junior Austin Lagomarsino said he first heard the news on Facebook when a friend posted “Habemus Papam” as his status.

“I followed [the conclave] on Facebook, but the best one to follow was Fr. Edward Sorin on Twitter,” Lagomarsino said.

The fake Fr. Edward Sorin account tweeted Wednesday at 9:02 a.m. EST, “If the tailgating in Saint Peter’s Square gets out of hand, no more night-popes for a while.”

Social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram did not exist when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was elected in 2005. But since the conclave began Tuesday, thousands of mobile devices tweeted photos each time the smoke appeared, whether it was black or white.

Senior Catherine Flatley said she found out about the new pope through social media and then turned to news media sources like the New York Times.

“I didn’t realize so many of my peers followed [the conclave] closely,” she said. “I saw posts on Facebook and Tweets, but I went and actually read about it via the news.”

Mobile applications created for the conclave were available within 48 hours of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s resignation, according to a report from CNN. One application, Conclave, by Logos Bible Software, provided free updates, live video from Saint Peter’s Square and historical information about the election process.

PopeAlarm.com, developed by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, promised to update users whenever the smoke appeared via SMS and the website’s Twitter handle, @popealarm. FantasyConclave.com, a website based on sports brackets, allowed users to select a cardinal and enter a pool with the chance to win prizes, some valued more than $300.

Some of the cardinals joined the Twitter community as they discussed the conclave, including Archbishop of Los Angeles Roger Mahoney, who tweeted at 7:07 p.m. March 11, “Last tweet before moving to Casa Santa Martha, and Mass to Elect a Pope. First Conclave meeting late Tuesday afternoon. Prayers needed.”

Crews installed mobile device jammers in the Sistine Chapel and the residences at the Santa Marta hotel to prevent the news from leaking out preemptively, according to a report by NBC.

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Telegraph of London, “In this electronic age, I worry some cardinals may go into iPad and Twitter withdrawal.”

Any cardinal or Vatican worker who breached the security code would face excommunication, according to The Telegraph.

When the newly-elected Pope Francis finally stepped onto the balcony, the Twitter sphere exploded with exclamations of “Habemus Papam” and “Francisco Primo”.

Twitter users started using the handle @JMBergoglio, which existed long before the new pontiff’s candidacy for the papacy, to congratulate him, according to a report from NBC. Twitter had to suspend the account when it nearly doubled in followers within a few hours of the announcement. The account was allegedly a fake account, according to Slate Magazine.

Pope Francis will inherit not only Saint Peter’s throne but also @Pontifex, the pope’s official Twitter account. The account has 1,819,926 followers and counting, and has produced one tweet at 7:33 CET on March 13. The tweet reads, “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM”.