On Friday, April 1st, the USCCB fell victim to an April Fools-esque joke...in the form of a tweet.
Earlier in the day, @VitaCatholic tweeted a comment that was misinterpreted as being critical of a Catholic organization. The backlash due to the comment led to another tweet from @VitaCatholic requesting some rules for Catholic tweeting, “Can someone give me the link to the Catholic Rules For Twitter? I never read it and apparently missed the rule that joking isn’t allowed.” Another Twitter user, @sullijo, responded with a tongue-in-cheek rule, “Never tweet quotes from the NAB without express permission of @USCCB,” and added the hashtag #CatholicRulesForTwitter.
And a minor Twitter meme was born.
After viewing a few tweets containing inaccurate information about USCCB copyright guidelines (and unaware that they were jokes), @USCCB decided to jump in the “conversation” and correct those we believed to be misinformed by tweeting, “@thomaspringle @VitaCatholic @sullijo Correction: You do not need permission to retweet our content. Retweet away. #CatholicRulesForTwitter.”
Then we took some time to read more tweets with the #CatholicRulesForTwitter hashtag, and soon caught on to the joke. It was time to give credit where credit was due:
@thomaspringle @VitaCatholic @sullijo Okay, okay, we get it. You guys got us...good. #CatholicRulesForTwitter #AprilFools
And then the meme took off.
Fellow Catholic tweeters started submitting their own #CatholicRulesForTwitter and retweeting those they found amusing. Over 400 tweets and retweets with #CatholicRulesForTwitter were shared within 24 hours. Others took notice and pretty soon there were #AnglicanRulesForTwitter and #LutheranRulesForTwitter. An online store was even set up to sell #CatholicRulesForTwitter merchandise, with all proceeds benefiting Catholic Relief Services (@CatholicRelief).
So, what can we learn from all this?
First and foremost, Catholics have a sense of humor. A few favorites that made us LOL:
@sullijo: Do not refer to tweeting bishops as "Your Twexellency." #CatholicRulesForTwitter
@CatholicDan: Tweets posted on Saturday night count as being written on Sunday. #CatholicRulesForTwitter
@JonoShea1: On Fasts, only one full tweet is allowed. 2 smaller tweets permitted, if they do not equal a full 140 characters #CatholicRulesForTwitter
Second, never underestimate the power of the internet to spread the word. If a small group can get a few humorous tweets to go viral, think about the difference large, concentrated online efforts could have in terms of evangelization.
Lastly, let this joke-turned-Twitter-meme-turned-fundraising-effort serve as a reminder for all Catholics to do what Pope Benedict requested in his 2011 Word Communications Day message, which is “to make good use of their presence in the digital world.”