Can Twitter predict the next pope?

As the College of Cardinals meets to pick a new pope, we examine how many of them use Twitter and whether that can help predict the next pontiff

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As you might expect, cardinals in general aren’t big tweeters. Just 21 out of the 115 members of the College of the Cardinals have Twitter accounts (18 percent). Of those 21, the most prolific tweeter is Cardinal Odilo Scherer from Brazil, who’s tweeted 1,610 times, almost twice as many as the next guy, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy (910). One cardinal has an account but hasn’t tweeted at all, Cardinal Willem Eijk of the Netherlands. The average number of tweets from the tweeting cardinals: 280. Again, not a real tweeting bunch, this College of Cardinals.

If we look at the number of Twitter followers, we see that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is by far the most popular tweeting cardinal, with over 97,000 followers, well more than twice as many as the runner up in this category, Cardinal Ravasi, who has just under 45,000 followers. Cardinal Scherer, the cardinal who tweets the most, is the third most popular with 30,000 or so followers. The average number of twitter followers for the tweeting cardinals: 10,980.

There’s one more Twitter metric to consider: the number of mock twitter accounts for each cardinal. After all, comedians wouldn't waste their time mocking the guys with no chance of being pope, right? Now, I didn’t try to find all of the mock accounts for each cardinal, but, based on my casual research, it appears that the cardinal with the most mock twitter accounts, by far, is Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy. I counted at least 10 Twitter accounts claiming to be his, almost all obviously fakes. 

Does any of this tell us who will be the next pope? Probably not. But, for what it’s worth, if tweeting is considered an asset in the next pope (and maybe it should be, you know, to connect with the young people), then Cardinals Scherer and Ravasi seem well positioned. On the other hand, if the number of followers is a proxy for papal chances, then Cardinal Dolan could be the man. But the gamblers' money is on the guy with the most mock twitter accounts, Cardinal Scola. I guess the wise guys and the comedians are on the same page.

Who’s your money on in the papal horserace? Share your guess in the comments.

UPDATE: Looks like we have a new pope - and he doesn't tweet (yet). Jorge Mario Bergoglio, or Francis I. So much for Twitter-based predictions.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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