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Millions use social media to welcome Pope Francis

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 8:42pm

  As 150,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican to cheer the election of the new pope, millions joined in Wednesday on Twitter and Facebook. Some chimed in with praise, others with social media's trademark humor and snark.

Early Wednesday, @SistineSeagull captured the spotlight by landing on the Sistine Chapel smokestack where cameras were trained in anticipation of the afternoon vote.

The creation of an account for any animal that ends up in the spotlight has become a Twitter staple. But before the account could reach 8,000 followers, the world was greeting Pope Francis, the first pontiff from South America.

"St. Francis was a guardian of birds, mystic, perhaps the most beloved Catholic saint of all!" tweeted @1zenwoman. "It's an OMEN, I say!! A sign!!"

In the crowd several held a banner that read "We'll follow you @pontifex." The @pontifex account had been used by Pope Benedict XVI but was wiped clean when he retired at the end of February. A full archive of Benedict's tweets is posted to the Vatican website.

"HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM" was the first tweet under Pope Francis. Habemus Papam translates to "We have a pope." It received more than 54,000 retweets, about 10% of the all-time record of 500,000 for @BarackObama's re-election photo.

Twitter says that about 130,000 tweets per minute were posted about the new pope, a rate it described as "very high" given that it was not a prime-time event. By early Wednesday afternoon, about 2 million tweets had been sent.

For a short time, every worldwide trending topic was pope-related, including hashtags like #habemuspapam, #Bergoglio and, in true Twitter spirit, #ReplaceMovieTitlesWithPope.

"Twitter loves a new pope more than Pinterest loves a Funfetti cake," wrote @christinagausas.

But not all was fun and games on Twitter with the discovery, too late for some, that the account @JMBergoglio, believed to be previous tweets from the new pontiff, was fake.

The account seems to have been created in April 2012 but was deleted by late Wednesday afternoon. The fake Twitter account included a link to what is likely a fake Facebook page.

Facebook and Twitter both have rules against impersonation but did not immediately respond to requests for information about these specific accounts.

Facebook users were also aboard the pope wagon, as discussion terms including Pope, Jorge Bergoglio and Vatican trended on the platform. As of 3:30 p.m. PT, mentions of Bergoglio (the new pope's last name) were up by 3.7 million%.

On Reddit, some community members of the discussion group /r/Christianity echoed the hopes of many social users that the new pope would be a reformer for the Vatican.

"I will definitely be praying for him," plyochama wrote.

Machinax responded, "He seems pretty by-the-book, so I doubt he'll kick too many doors down."

On YouTube, there were more than 700 videos tagged "Pope Francis" uploaded on Wednesday. Those with the highest views on Wednesday were still serious news pieces. But a clip from the comedy "Stripes" that quotes Bill Murray's Sgt. Hulka saying "Lighten up Francis" was getting healthy circulation.

@buzzfeedandrew tweeted, "Hoping the Catholic Cardinals made a Harlem Shake video right after they picked the new pope."
 

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