Tweeting: Social media changes the way people experience LDS general conference

Published: Thursday, Oct. 3 2013 8:40 a.m. MDT

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Courtesy Twitter

SALT LAKE CITY — For most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, general conference weekend is a change of pace from typical Sunday worship, but for one virtual congregation, conference weekend is prime time.

The unofficial #twitterstake — a hashtag that plays on the Mormon term "stake," or geographic group of congregations — is used by some LDS social media users who converse online year-round about church themes and topics on Twitter, the social networking website oriented to brief messages and immediate updates.

At conference time, however, these and many other church members shift into hyperdrive, sending tweets throughout the meetings as they happen. The messages are little bursts — limited to 140 characters — of commentary, quotations and themes.

And those bursts are coming more frequently. At one point during last April's general conference, LDS Church spokesman Lyman Kirkland said "there were 514 tweets per minute that mentioned either conference or the (church’s official) #ldsconf hashtag.”

During last April’s general conference, there were more than 128,000 tweets about the conference. That number was up from 88,400 at last October’s general conference.

Such general conference-related Twitter conversations “occur organically and are a natural result of the enthusiasm church members have for sharing their faith with others,” Kirkland said.

Observers see various levels of acceptance among church members for tweeting during a reverent meeting in which church leaders provide spiritual messages intended for study and reflection.

The acceptance divides along generational lines, said Jesse Stay, author, speaker and social media coach.

“People my age (36) and older grew up in a culture where we stop and we listen to conference messages, so some of us think tweeting and texting during conference is rude and unacceptable,” Stay said. “But those who are younger grew up in a world of constant communication. They are used to this form of multi-tasking. They know how to listen and read and share simultaneously, and they are able to consume more as a result. They can be listening to a conference session, and then somebody tweets something that they missed, and their overall conference experience is enhanced.”

Sometimes the tweets are informative and add to the appreciation of the session, such as when Beki Winchel observed that “Elder (David A.) Bednar’s talk (during last April’s Saturday afternoon session) is Part II of his earlier address, ‘Things as They Really Are,’ ” and then she gave a link to that earlier address.

Other #twitterstake tweets are more spiritual in nature. “God lives!” tweeted LDSGuy. “Jesus is the Christ. Pres. Monson is His prophet on earth today. God be with you till we meet again.”

Still other tweets are fun and conversational:

“I hope the Brothas are listening!!!!” tweeted well-known bloggers Sistas in Zion during the Saturday morning conference session in April. “What Elder Ballard just said is … y’all men are not the priesthood!”

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