The Darker Side Of Twitter

In my blurb about the purpose behind Twittercism I wrote the following:

For perhaps the first time in our history, Twitter has provided the masses with a convenient and simple way to hook up with their icons. This is good for the fan and great for the ego of the celebrity. Right now, things are mostly going okay. People are civil to each other and Twitter’s simple interface means it’s easy to block anybody who is quite blatantly a mental.

Yet: the cracks are already beginning to show. We’re already seeing cat-fights between A-listers. Public cat-fights, on Twitter, for the world to see. A few celebrities are already beginning to feel the scorn of the hyper-cynical public. Fingers are being pointed. Words are being exchanged.

It is only going to get worse.

The thing between Perez Hilton and Lily Allen got fairly ugly but was mostly amusing. The reality here is that both of them are well-known provocateurs and when you get two of these kinds of people together it always gets a bit messy when they bump virtual uglies. We’ll definitely see more celeb-on-celeb action in the future, but I don’t think that will ever get too insane. (Although it will certainly amuse.)

No. I think the biggest problem you’re going to see on Twitter over the next year or so is famous types coming under wave-after-wave of pretty vicious attacks from Joe Public. And not just your common or garden Joe Public, either.

You see, the Internet has been, essentially, plagued by trolls and n’er do wells ever since the first bulletin board came into existence (which by all accounts, was 1972). The term troll most likely derives from an old fishing technique of carefully dragging bait through water, known as trolling. The term is alleged to have first appeared on the Internet, when those who wished others mockery would ‘troll for suckers’.

So, w hat am I saying: that celebrities are suckers? Yes, I do believe a lot of them are, or will prove to be.

The thing is, the current influx of A-names we’re seeing making legitimate appearances on Twitter is a lot of fun for the masses. It’s a lot of fun for the celebrities, too. And less so for the Twitterati. But whereas the latter are seasoned old ‘net dogs who have years of experience of protecting themselves from trolls, spammers and good old-fashioned wackos, the very famous do not. If they’ve even maintained a reasonable presence on the Internets, pre-Twitter, for the most part it has been done for them. They’ve had a team. They’ve had a PR person telling them what to do and say, and more importantly, what not to. (This is even going on with Twitter, notably when it comes to BBC participants). Most of the time, and this is of course true with Twitter as well, they have somebody else doing their updates. That somebody, most likely, has been around the virtual block.

Not so now. While, on paper, it’s great that the likes of Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Alan Davies and even Jamie Oliver have embraced Twitterdom, this cannot, in any way, shape or form, end well for them. At least in’s current set-up.

Just recently, we’ve seen a very mild example of what I’m talking about, between Demi Moore and a user called makonnen. Makonnen was following Moore, but not the other way around. He’d messaged her a question, which she either hadn’t seen, hadn’t had time to respond to, or ignored. Moments later, Makonnen Tweeted this:

What happened next is several followers of Moore’s account re-Tweeted Makonnen’s contribution directly to her (even though, of course, she’d already been sent it by Makonnen himself). Here was Moore’s response:

You can read some of the follow-up stuff here and here. (Links subject to change as more Tweets are posted).

Now, in the scheme of things, this is pretty mild. Makonnen even apologised, and Moore ultimately went back to her somewhat odd Zen-a-like Tweets. Plus, of course, received loads of supportive messages from her more accommodating followers.

But this is just the beginning. In months to come, this is going to seem like an ideal.

The celebrity growth on Twitter, much like the network itself, has been exponential. Stephen Fry has clearly, either directly or otherwise, brought aboard the likes of Rob Brydon, Phill Jupitus and Alan Davies, and these guys, and Jonathan Ross, will encourage more British famous folk to take part. Likewise, Los Angeles elite such as Moore, Kutcher, Shaquille O’Neal and Snoop Dogg will participate in others in their starzone signing up, too.

The comedians, I think, are going to be okay. They’re used to hecklers. They know what to do and what to say. It’s the Beverly Hills mansion types, or the wet-behind-the-ears American TV stars, or the up-their-own-arses British ones, who are really going to be on the sharp end of the stick. The Internet has always been an extremely cynical beast, and even happy-go-luck types can take offense to any kind of display of galactic egotism. We’ve all seen what happens when people like The Ordinary Boys’ Preston go on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. It doesn’t end well. It didn’t even end well for James Nesbitt, despite previously giving the impression that he was a bit of a geezer. Likewise Danny Dyer.

And this is in the heavily-edited, made for viewers world of television. These people will be toast on Twitter. There is no filter. No director yelling ‘cut’. No PR team to field the questions. They won’t have a clue what hit ’em.

Can you imagine Tom Cruise on Twitter? I mean, surely, it will never happen, and even if it did one assumes it would be handled by a PR team. But if Cruise’s ship continues to sink through the remainder of this decade, crazier things have happened. In two years, that same PR team may be looking back and referring to Cruise’s infamous appearance on Oprah as ‘the good times’.

So, what does this mean for the rest of us? The less-than-famous. The so-so. The nobodies. Joe and Josephine Public?

A lot of laughs, that’s for sure. The Internet has always been a great leveller – real-world nerds and geeks become jocks online, and vice versa – and for the first time in our history, Twitter might do the exact same thing to the very famous. Certainly – and one would perhaps hope – to those who most deserve it.