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Politics @Pontifex: International Crises and Political Patterns of Papal Tweets

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 October 2018

Federica Genovese*
University of Essex


Political research on social media argues that new channels of technological communication influence political leadership. However, we do not know the extent to which social media affect the power of other authorities—for example, religious leaders—in the secular world. This article focuses on the social media presence of the Pope. I argue that the pontiff uses social media communication to explicitly address certain political issues. Specifically, I claim that his messages on the web tend to be more political when critical world events threaten peaceful international relations and frighten salient religious minorities. I investigated this argument by studying Pope Francis’s statements on Twitter. The analysis indicates that the Pope is more likely to release political tweets during international crises, thus targeting issues that otherwise belong to other secular authorities. At the same time, it “normalizes” the Catholic Church’s power in that it allows the Pope to maintain the Vatican’s long tradition of safeguarding peace and protecting vulnerable populations. These findings have implications for the leadership of the Catholic Church in the modern world and extend to other papacies beyond Francis’s.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2018 

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