Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Celebrity tweets

Recently, a student emailed me about a piece she was writing for DN magazine about Twitter and how celebrities are using the service to broadcast info about their private lives, whilst also complaining about their privacy being violated. Saying as this material fits nicely with the session I will be delivering on MAC301 in a few weeks I thought I'd post my response to the email here.

I've been reading (ie blind referring for a scholarly journal) a little academic material recently about the ways in which celebrities use services like Twitter to manage their public personas in order to present what seems like an authentic version of themselves for their fans to consume. The internet, generally, has had a significant impact on celebrity culture in that it has fostered a large range of outlets through which ideas and discussion about celebrities can circulate. Forums, fan sites, blogs and social media (like Twitter) all play a part in offering us unprecedented access to celebrity content - some of it official, some of it unofficial.

What makes Twitter interesting and unique is that it seems to offer an uncensored and intimate point of access. Celebrities (or even people posing as celebrities) can grant their fans or followers what seems like highly personal contact. Many even respond to comments or question in a public replay (eg @username). Some, like Mariah Carey, opt to send messages to their fans using the private 'direct message' reply.

There is a danger that we read a little too much into the supposed legitimacy of the celebrity on Twitter. Not all celebrities are who they claim to be - many of the Twitter accounts of the most famous celebrities, like Britney Spears, are frequently attributed to Britney herself, but also her manager and her website. It's also not uncommon for 'ghost writers' to be employed by high profile celebrities who write posts in the 'voice' or style of the author they represent. It's not always easy to distinguish these writers from the 'real' celebrity - but then again, its questionable if the general public ever really get access to the real, authentic celebrity in other media forms

The celebrity image or persona is 'performed' and 'managed' by stylists and PR teams who frequently brief their employers on what to say, where to be seen and who to be seen with. Twitter could be seen as an extension of that kind of practice. However, their are many celebrities who do use the service as a way of performing what seems like intimacy with their followers. I can imagine that this is part of the appeal for celebrities and fans alike. Appearing at ease with your fame can be advantageous and useful for promoting the brand that is the celebrity identity (ie Katie Price). How honest this kind of communication or authentic is is debatable on the whole. The fact that a celebrity might be accessing their Twitter account from the mobile phone in their pockets or handbags does at least suggest a sense of potential intimacy and this is where Twitter has been successful for the celebrity-stalking fan

Some followers even go out of their way to anger and incite their chosen celebrity victims in order to solicit a response from them, while others may be more flattering.

The web and the tools we find on it (ie Twitter) are great at offering us what seems like more direct access to folk, but their seems to be an unwritten contract between those people who publish things in public and those that consume said material that if you opt to put it out there, then you cannot complain about the invasion of privacy that might come along with that. I'm not sure that having a public presence gives followers a carte-blanche rationale for invasive behaviour, but being able to control your own public facing platform certainly seems to be appealing to those people who bemoan the interference of gossip columnists and the paparazzi.

I'm not sure how influential Twitter is - it may be too early to tell, or it may be that the general creep of social media into our everyday lives is forcing a blurring of the boundaries between what was once considered private and what is now thought to be public. It seems like some commentators are suggesting that Twitter's popularity has peaked, but again, it may be too early to tell. Once thing is for sure, it's never been easier to use social media tools to get what seems like direct access to celebrities. Whether or not that access is genuine or authentic depends on the celebrity

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