Twitter and the Dalai Lama

By Peter Smith Tech & society, Tech & society, Twitter

When can you claim a technology like Twitter has gone mainstream? Is it when your mom starts to use it? Or do external influences count for more? Say when Mr. & Mrs. Ashton Kutcher start tweeting to the masses (which invariably leads to the mainstream press paying attention). Or maybe in the grand scheme of things, the Kutchers aren't that important. Of course Twitter had Barack Obama during the presidential campaign, but that account went silent as soon as he won. So maybe it isn't the arrival of Hollywood stars, or politicians that mark Twitter as mainstream. Maybe it takes the Dalai Lama (http://twitter.com/OHHDL - Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama).

And for a few days the Twitterverse celebrated that auspicious individual (or more accurately his office) joining their ranks, and they Followed in droves. What pearls of wisdom did they receive? Well, not a lot actually. "His Holiness thought it was prudent to make his office open and assessable [sic] to a more youth and technologically advancing audience." and "Our office is currently overwhelmed by responses from our first day on Twitter. We will make every effort to answer your questions in time."

And then on Monday, February 9th, it all came crashing down when it was reported that the account holder was an imposter. The account was removed from Twitter for several hours, then reinstated with the description "Not affiliated with the real Dalai Lama; Visit the official site www.dalailama.com for more information." The first and only tweet (as of the time of this writing) since reinstatement: "Welcome to the UNOFFICIAL Twitter page of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Check back for news and travel itinerary."

The odd part about this imposter is that whomever was running the account seemed well intentioned. When OHHDL replied, it was generally with either a link to a pertinent page on the official Dalia Lama website or a gracious thank you for whatever suggestion had been given. The person was fake but the responses pointed to information that was real. In the case of a technology like Twitter, what matters more, the person or the message? Twenty thousand people are still Following this unofficial account. Something to think about.

Twitter was invented so that we could tell our friends what bar we're at. Then it grew to become a microblogging/announcement conduit for us geeks to share info with other geeks. But with the near-extinction of the Phail Whale, the walls seem to be crumbling and Twitter is being used by people in all walks of life. OHHDL was an imposter, but how long will it be before we see a legitimate religious leader join the community?

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