Social Media in Church and State

Social networking needs no shots in the arm, yet it received two this week anyway, courtesy of major endorsements from the White House and the Pope.

The White House will be utilizing the social aspects of Twitter and YouTube in particular to complement the President’s State of the Union Address. Senior administrative officials in the Obama administration will field questions from Twitter users after the speech, while later in the week Press Secretary Robert Gibbs will also do a question and answer session on the microblogging giant.

The climax of the White House’s State of the Union social media campaign will be a live question and answer video session with President Obama on YouTube.

Injecting a dose of spirituality into the matter was Pope Benedict XVI, who acknowledged that new technologies are allowing Christians to spread the gospel and to connect with others in an ever-expanding variety of ways. He also urged Christian social networkers to maintain a Christian presence online. He warned specifically against creating fake profiles to achieve popularity or settle some matter of ego. (Shamefully, we’re now headed to MySpace to delete our 78 faux Steven Seagal profiles.)

What does this all mean? Probably nothing. Unless a sudden influx of political enthusiasts and/or idle patriots floods Twitter this week, or unless Facebook surges with new Christian profiles in the wake of the Pope’s declarations, we can be fairly sure that these novel events are precisely that: novel events, of not much lasting consequence in terms of the member base of any social media site. After all, hundreds of millions of users are already on Facebook, which is in and of itself beyond a household name – if not a household obsession. Twitter is already processing over 1 billion tweets per month from users all over the globe. It may tickle people to see the President and the Pope on the new media bandwagon, but it’s entirely likely said people will already be wired into social activities online.

But, if nothing else, the endorsement of social networking from the Pontiff and the usage of same by the President will reaffirm the usefulness of social media in connecting people with a common interest or cause. Which is something that should be, given the fact that “social networking” is social by nature, self-evident. However, it’s entirely easy to get lost in the sea of solo status updates and forget that some of the strongest features of social networking involve interacting with others – even some pretty powerful folks, who are coming around.

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