I Tweet. Not regularly and not well, but I have used my Twitter account in one form or another for a couple of years now. Often I am asked if I have a Twitter account, and when I say that I do, the next question is almost always the same: “What do you use it for?” Frankly, even now I don’t know exactly what to do with Twitter.

Twitter remains one of the few social media sites that I don’t quite know what to do with. It is not a site that many teens are posting to, but that does not mean they are ignoring it altogether. It can cross-post with other sites like Facebook, but in terms of social interaction, it seems like far more people comment on posts to Facebook than they ever do on Twitter. While it is clearly an active form of social media, it is difficult to see how it fits into the Internet consumption of teens or even adults.

Despite my inability to define Twitter’s use, this year Twitter’s influence was hard to ignore. More than 100 million people around the world are logging into Twitter every day to share pieces of their lives with their followers. But beyond the mundane Tweets about meals and household drama, Twitter has begun to rise up as a powerful way to share important events with people around the world.

In 2011, Twitter took a much more predominant role in directing our popular culture’s attention. We saw more influential people using Twitter to communicate and everyday people using Twitter to post about some of the most newsworthy moments of the year. Here are five examples (in no particular order) of how Twitter helped make headlines in 2011.

“Dear Americans, this July 4th dream of insurrection against corporaterule #occupywallstreet” and

“September 17th. WallStreet. BringTent. #OCCUPYWALLSTREET.”

Adbusters magazine posted these two tweets 10 days apart and started the Occupy Wall Street movement that is still making headlines months later. In fact, the Occupy Wall Street movement has used Twitter in a variety of ways to communicate with those who were Occupying around the world and to send messages about arrests and additional protests to those following local movements. It is this kind of innovative use that allows people to follow events as written by the people on the ground.

“im retiring Video: http://bit.ly/kvLtE3 #ShaqRetires”

When the legendary basketball player Shaquille O’Neal decided to retire after a nearly two-decade career, he took to Twitter first. Twitter has become the place where celebrities can speak directly to their fans without having to go through additional outlets, and sometimes without additional editing. While the accompanying video gave more information, Shaq used Twitter’s direct nature to make his fans the first to be in the know.

“Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).”

A local resident of Abbottabad, Pakistan, sent out this tweet and unknowingly live tweeted the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound before any news agency could break the story. He continued to tweet throughout the raid because the noise was keeping him awake, and he didn’t have any clue as to what he was doing until the next day. This is one of several examples where people at the scene of news-breaking moments are getting out information before news media is able to arrive. We saw similar situations in Egypt and in other parts of the world as news-breaking situations hit Twitter before they were ever broadcast by regular news outlets. While Twitter is decidedly more difficult to navigate and more unreliable than other news sources, this is a perfect example of how Twitter is changing how news travels the globe.

“Brooms up London!”

After riots in the U.K. dirtied the streets, people organized a massive clean-up effort via Facebook and Twitter. An account called @riotcleanup was created to post information about how to help, and it gained over 70,000 followers who wanted to play a part in helping return the affected areas back to normal. Twitter has created a place where you can collect people in a very organic way around a specific cause. Either by creating an account with centralized information that people can follow or by creating a hashtag that can be searched, individuals can get up-to-the-minute information and connect to strangers to help one another out.

“Dear Friends, I just launched News.va Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI”

This was the first Tweet made by the Pope from his iPad on June 28th. With this Tweet, the Catholic church continued its shift to move into social media after years of encouraging priests to blog and use sites like Facebook to communicate with Catholics and those outside the church alike.

While the Pope’s first tweet is newsworthy, it is a part of a bigger movement as the Christian church begins to harness social media in a positive way to help share the Gospel of Jesus with more and more people. Many of the people who connect to the Church through social media are those we may not have had a chance to communicate with before. In fact, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Concordia Publishing House, and many Lutheran church workers have created Twitter accounts that share both Bible verses and daily reminders of the Gospel. It is encouraging to consider how these examples of Tweeting will continue to push a movement of using Twitter and other social media as a powerful way to share the story of Jesus with people across the world.

Like all social media, Twitter can be used both negatively and positively. God’s people are called to use our words wisely, whether they are in person or on Twitter. Proverbs 15 says, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. The soothing tongue is the tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” Too often those 140 characters come too quickly and without thought to what they really mean.

2011 reminds us of the power of just one Tweet and we must constantly remind ourselves and the teens with whom we work that our words are powerful. They can be used wisely and soothingly or foolishly and perversely. God is watching us always, Tweets and all. May we fill our feeds with godly and wise things and ask for God’s gracious forgiveness when our words are too quick or too full of folly.