Why the pope is on Twitter but not Facebook

His word.
His word.
Image: AP/L' Osservatore Romano
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Pope Francis isn’t joining Facebook despite efforts to recruit him.

Facebook representatives recently visited the Vatican to argue that the leader of the world’s largest Christian church should have a profile on the world’s largest social network. But the archbishop in charge of the church’s media strategy, Claudio Maria Celli, said Pope Francis will stay off Facebook over concerns about abusive comments.

The rejection of Facebook is surprising because the Vatican has otherwise embraced social media. Francis recently called the internet “a gift from God.”

The pope’s predecessor, Benedict, joined Twitter in 2012, which was widely seen as a savvy move to expand the reach of the Catholic gospel. Celli, whose official title is “president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication,” was there when Benedict sent the first papal tweet. The accounts were passed on to Francis, whose delegates tweet on his behalf about once a day in nine languages.

But some cardinals have been concerned about the profane replies that @Pontifex often receives on Twitter, Celli said at a lunch in New York hosted by DeSales Media. He said the issue caused a “crisis” at the Vatican when the accounts were created.

Abusive comments can be easily ignored on Twitter but are more prominent on Facebook. Celli said the Vatican already spends a lot of time “cleaning up” the Facebook pages for News.va, the church’s news site, deleting obscenities but letting polite criticism stand. He said it wasn’t worth doing the same thing for a profile or page in Francis’s name.

Vatican Insider reported earlier this year that church officials had “assigned a team of IT technicians to look into ways in which to prevent offensive or inappropriate messages and other such material from being posted on the pope’s [Facebook] page.” That isn’t possible.

There are many unofficial Facebook pages for Francis that have hundreds of thousands of likes. Seventy-one percent of Italian internet users were on Facebook by the end of last year, according to the company.