The Celebrity Twitter Backlash

One of the interesting aspects of Twitter is the ability for celebrities to communicate directly with their fans. Yet as the site grows in popularity, some users are tiring of the increasing celebrity Twitter presence.

The celebrity invasion of Twitter has steadily increased over the past few months: actors, musicians, comedians, and authors all set up accounts on the site to connect with their fans and, perhaps more importantly, promote their material. Most celebrity Twitter users were greeted warmly: Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry, and Russell Brand all have thousands of followers who often get responses to their questions direct from the celebrity, a type of exciting interaction that is both personal and public: a verification, for many users, that the celebrities they adore actually listen and care about what they have to say.

But the backlash against celebrity Twitters has already begun: after Ashton Kutcher "challenged" CNN Breaking News to see which account could reach 1 million followers first, (in the name of charity—the winner would agree to donate 10,000 mosquito nets for World Malaria Day) users began to suspect some celebrities of having more sinister motives behind their sudden interest in the service. Good intentions aside, many began "unfollowing" Kutcher yesterday, due to his tendency to gather followers but not actually follow anyone, and, of course, his role in bringing Oprah Winfrey to the site.

Oprah's arrival on Twitter was deemed a "disaster" by Milo Yiannopoulous of The Telegraph, who asked his own Twitter followers to weigh in on the situation. One user complained that Oprah's Twitter was just another means of promoting her "lifestyle": "The domination of her "book" club will put an end to literature as we know it. Imagine what's going to happen when she starts pimping out her feed. Books, magazines, movies," and another noted that Winfrey won't be able to adapt to the "real" tone of Twitter :"Because she can't even have an authentic conversation with her guests - never mind her followers. The cloud of vacuousness that is Ms Winfrey can only damage Twitter's reputation: what further proof do the naysayers need that Twitter is for twits?"

Oprah's overhyped arrival, combined with earlier reports that several celebrities were using ghost writers to promote "their brand" on the site, sparked a Twitter trend yesterday afternoon that embodies the growing frustration many users have toward celebrities who only seem interested in the site to plug themselves and "collect" followers: the tag #unfollowfriday. "Unfollowing anyone who mentions Kutcher, Oprah, or uses the word Internets. Satisfying. #unfollowfriday," wrote Leo Laporte (who, a commenter points out, is a Twitter celebrity in his own right, with over 100,000 followers and a popular podcast). His words were quickly re-tweeted throughout the site, with users adding their own suggestions for who to "unfollow." The main targets were celebrities who constantly talk about how many followers they have, but don't bother to follow other Twitter users, with Kutcher being the main target.

Kutcher may have had good intentions while racing to gather followers for charity, but he's spawned a new trend of follower hype that's already reached wanna-be celebrities like Spencer Pratt, who has just challenged Kutcher to see who can gather the most followers over the next 30 days—not for charity, mind you, but for personal publicity. Pratt says he'll clean Kutcher's house if he loses. "From the moment Ashton accepts my challenge, assuming he's man enough to do so, whoever adds the most new followers in 30 days wins. If I win, Ashton and Demi [Moore, his wife] have to wash my car." He should have just offered to jump a shark or nuke a fridge. When Z-list celebrities start getting in on the "trend" of collecting followers, you know it's totally over.

I admit to being a little annoyed by certain celebrity Twitters: I've unfollowed a few due to their insistence upon noting how many followers they have. Listen up, Twitter celebrities: NOBODY CARES how many followers you have. You're famous already. Constantly tweeting about how many people follow you only makes you look like a self-obsessed asshole with nothing better to do.

Perhaps that's the problem, really: the instant access to celebrities breaks down the mythical walls that create a sense of mystery and excitement around certain celebs. One of the reasons we're so interested in celebrities is because there is a sense of exclusivity about their lives, a barrier between the world of rock stars and famous writers and the rest of us. For the best celebrity twitters, that barrier is lifted to reveal a real person who is both accessible and admirable: someone who makes us laugh with their stupid 140 character messages as much as they do on the page or on screen and makes us root for them or gives us insight into who they are beyond the carefully groomed image. But the worst celebrity twitters, the ones clearly set up not for interaction, but for self-promotion, display the kind of narcissism and obliviousness that only serves to prove that some celebrities haven't figured out that the point of social media isn't to collect friends (that's very MySpace, 2006) but to actually engage with other people.

Perhaps for some celebrities, it's hard not to be the center of attention, or in some "exclusive" club that prides itself on the number of followers one has. But for Twitter users, the number of followers one has doesn't mean a thing if the celebrity isn't willing to engage or put out any tweets worth reading. The glamour of a celebrity's image is taken away on the site: all they have to attract followers is their reputation and their words. Twitter is a night club without a velvet rope. And nobody cares if you're a VIP if you don't have anything interesting to say.

Oprah Tries Twitter, Crowns Ashton King Of It [WSJ]
Exclusive: Spencer Pratt Challenges Ashton Kutcher To A Twitter Race [USWeekly]
5 Reasons Why Oprah Winfrey On Twitter Is A Disaster [Telegraph]
50 Cent, Britney Spears Have Twitter Ghostwriters [MTV]