The post-lunch session at AoIR 2013 starts with a panel on celebrity crises, which has now become a QUT-only affair. We're starting with a paper by Theresa Sauter and me, on the Pope's @pontifex account. (Slides and audio are below.) Celebrity accounts in general are one of the big drivers of Twitter activity, as Twitter itself positions them. The @pontifex account was set up in December 2012 by Benedict XVI, with nine different language accounts set up, including one in Latin.
We tracked the English-language account, which had gathered 1.6 million followers by the time Benedict XVI resigned. He'd mainly posted brief prayer-style messages, coordinated across all languages, and the new pope Francis has done much the same since then. This is perhaps unsurprising given the status of the Pope.
We tracked @pontifex's own tweets, as well as tweets directed at the account. We divided these tweets into two main phases: the final days of Benedict XVI's reign, and the sede vacante / Francis inauguration period. During sede vacante, the papal account lay dormant, and all previous messages were archived and deleted from the account. We then examined the top 30 @repliers, and the top 30 accounts mentioned alongside @pontifex.
Tweets in our dataset spiked around the introduction of the account, the resignation of Benedict XVI, and the election of Francis. There is generally a broad base of users engaging with @pontifex, with only a small number of highly active users tweeting at the account - a strong long tail distribution. This is true for both of the phases we're considering here.
Examining the most active (tweets sent) and the most visible (@mentions received) users in the dataset, for both phases, a number of patterns emerge. The most active @repliers during the first period were more strongly positive as well as negative towards pope, church, and religion, while views during the second phase were more moderate; there were also more obsessive and unhinged tweeters during the second period.
Positive tweeters expressed support, thanks, and good wishes towards the old pope, negative tweeters criticised his lack of action on homophobia and paedophilia; the new pope was also greeted with a sense of uncertainty and scepticism about his likely direction, especially by conservative Catholics. There were also more unhinged responses in the second phase.
Of the tweet recipients in @pontifex tweets, comedians, religious accounts, parody accounts and news accounts are most visible in the first phase; a fake account for Francis, politicians' accounts, and news accounts are prominent in the second. Celebrity accounts are less visible in the second phase, politicians more prominent.
These accounts appeared alongside the pope' s account mainly because their tweets mentioning @pontifex were widely retweeted. Expressions of support for Benedict XVI, jokes about his resignation, critiques of the outgoing pope, news stories about his resignation were all widely retweeted, increasing their authors' visibility in the dataset. Joke tweets were mainly neutral or negative towards the pope during the first phase, and mainly neutral and positive during the second.