The Dalai Lama has almost 5 million fans on Twitter and over 4 million on Facebook. This is not as many as President Obama has, but he out does Depak Chopra, who has around one million fans.
Dalai Lama means the Ocean of Wisdom, but his fans call him “His Holiness” or HH for short.
The social-media accounts of the Dalai Lama, also known as His Holiness (or HH for short) to his followers, are managed by a team in his office, headed by official photographer Tenzin Choejor, a tech-savvy 33-year-old. “I’m very much a Netizen,” Choejor said. “I’m always looking at people’s Facebook pages. Even though His Holiness has had a website since 2005, in this busy 21st century people don’t have time to go to your site all the time. We felt it was very important to deliver the content and messages of His Holiness to people via social networks.”
Allegedly, imposters have also opened a Twitter and Facebook account using His Holiness’ name, trying to make it look him. A fake Twitter account was shutdown within a week after The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama contacted Twitter.
“That fake Twitter account also made us realize we needed to do it,” Choejor told The Daily Beast from Dharamsala via Skype. “Otherwise someone else would do it, and their tweets might be taken as genuine words of the Dalai Lama, even if it’s all just in the virtual world.”
The first tweets, on the official account, were pictures and links to articles, but not words of wisdoms are tweeted on HH’s account.
“People in every part of the world are fed up with violence,” or links to webcasts. In little more than two years, his Twitter following has proliferated to nearly 5 million—or, more precisely, 4,814,521 as of Aug. 3, said Choejor.
And yet, who’s counting? “We don’t make comparisons with others,” maintained Choejor. “We just do our job, just pour out the tweets and photos and quotations in a way that suits His Holiness.”
On his Facebook page, HH lets more of himself through and even thanked his fans for well wishes and birthday wishes. Even his travels and other documents are posted on Facebook. On his YouTube account are his various speeches.
However, the 77-year-old Nobel laureate does not do all of this himself and says his hands are not equipped to work a computer or other forms of technology. He even admitted, during a CNN interview with Pier Morgan, that he asks someone to type and send emails for him. His team of technological specialists do all the computer stuff for him, under the supervision higher ups and the HH. He does not post any of his tweets or Facebook posts himself.
One team member says, “His Holiness just lets us do our thing.” That normally involves choosing appropriate quotations from the Dalai Lama’s books and recent speeches (“We work hard to make sure its his voice,” said the team member) and putting up live webcasts whenever he gives Buddhist teachings. The goal is not to gain followers but to promote religious harmony and human values—and to post content from the Dalai Lama’s daytime activities swiftly, so that when people wake up in the morning, they see something new.
“His Holiness isn’t too involved,” said Choejor, who’s worked in the Dalai Lama’s office since July 2005, after attending Madras Christian College and obtaining a B. A. in political science and a master’s in communications. “He doesn’t have an iPad or Kindle; he doesn’t use computers. He doesn’t carry communications devices. His office handles all that. We just report up and occasionally inform him, ‘You have this many fans.’”
After the riots in Lhasa and other Tibetan communities shortly before the Beijing Olympics occurred, the Dalai Lama stated that the Chinese government had increasing difficulties grassroots resentment due to technology. Today, he focuses on social media to show other ways of communicating.
“Now authorities are trying to control [things] by shutting down these services. But it’s very difficult to control everything.” He said mobile phones’ ability to disseminate news virtually in real time was probably “a factor” in the speed and scope with which the unrest spread.
Social media “has accelerated the beginning of dialogue between ordinary Tibetans and Chinese,” said Kate Saunders, a London-based researcher for the International Campaign for Tibet. “It's a very important initiative for the Dalai Lama.”
However, it is not certain that communicating Buddhist wisdom over Twitter is a good thing and people debate the usefulness of it.
“Twitter is an empty box for sharing information. If you follow the Dalai’s tweets, you get small, easily digestible doses, and you may think you don’t need to read his books. But with a hundred other things fighting for your attention, how much contemplative thought can you absorb?” said Soren Gordhamer, who calls himself “Buddhist friendly.”
Concerning the HH’s global celebrity status, he says, “I’m just a simple Buddhist monk.” The Dalai Lama is simple monk who, with the help of other people, keeps up with new technology and new ways to communicate with others.