Trent Reznor Quits Twitter – Let The Celebrity Backlash Begin

Trent Reznor has deleted his Twitter account.

You may recall his well-publicised rant about his experiences with certain members of the network last month:

I approached that as a place to be less formal and more off-the-cuff, honest and “human”. I was not expecting to broadcast details of my love life there, but it happened because I’m in love and it’s all I think about and that’s that. If this has bummed you out or destroyed what you’ve projected on me, fair enough – it’s probably time for you to leave. You are right, I’m not the same person I was in 1994 (and I’m happy about that). Are you?

Back then, he threatened to cut back, and stop sharing personal information – now he’s decided it’s better to stop altogether. No goodbyes, no final tweet, no nothing. Which is perhaps the best way to do it, but here’s my question: does this mean the assholes have won? And if they have, is this the beginning of the end for celebrities and I ♥ Twitter?

Way back when I started Twittercism, I expressed concerns about the celebrity influx to the network. Not because I didn’t like famous people – not all of them, anyway – but because for many Twitter was going to be their first experience with any kind of online social interaction. The rest of us – let’s say ‘normal people’ – have put in tons and tons of man-hours over years and years in forums, chat rooms, IRC, USENET, MSN, ICQ and whatever else took our fancy. At the same time, we put up with, and learned to filter out and manage, all the abuse that comes from the small but persistent part of those forums who seem to exist only to find fault in others. You know, trolls.

When it comes to the internet, a lot of celebrities are pretty naive. In the offline world, they’ve learned the hard way how to keep their distance from the wackjobs and lunatics who make up the small but persistent part of their fanbase. And when they didn’t know what to do, their bodyguards did. And their PR team cleaned up the mess. And their manager stopped them making the same mistake twice.

The internet is different. Assuming the celebrity account is genuine, there is no bodyguard. There is no PR team, and there is no manager. It’s just the celebrity and a million other people, a percentage of which will be abusive and/or insane.

And even if the star learns to master the block and is a wizard at putting the scumbags in their place, these individuals are just the start of it, because the real problems come with the people who actually like the celebrity. You know, fans.

Fans aren’t complicated. They like you because you’re X. As long as you keep being X, and as long as you keep doing things that are in the spirit of X, you’re always going to have a place in their hearts.

It starts to get tricky when you want to do Y. Suddenly, you’re a sell-out. Or a phony.

Actually, Y is the real you, but it isn’t the one they expected. It isn’t the one they wanted, and they’ll be more than happy to share their disappointment. In their tens of thousands.

I suspect this is why Reznor gave up on Twitter. Trolls are like the Terminator and they will not stop, but it’s the people who love you that are hardest to deal with when you’ve given them a reason to be angry or confused, even if that reason is delusional and entirely of their own making.

I wonder if this is going to set a precedent. Reznor on Twitter never really gelled in my mind but he gave it a decent shot. So, if an intelligent, learned man who has probably encountered more lunatics than the rest of us can even imagine cannot stand the heat, what hope is there for the pampered TV soap star, or Hollywood A-lister, who breaks out in hives when the UPS guy rings the bell?

Shaquille O’Neal seems to have Twitter sussed as much as anybody. He has that balance of keeping it real whilst being personable and friendly, and not taking things too seriously. He’s also pretty much what you would have expected. All of this works in his favour.

But what of the rest of them? Some will thrive, but I firmly believe we’re going to see a lot of carnage over the next six months. As we roll over into 2010, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see several other big names quitting Twitter entirely and moving to the relative safety of Facebook. Vin Diesel not being on Twitter – whilst being #1 on Facebook – speaks volumes.

Failing that, many of them are going to be forced to really be careful about the things that they say. They might even start going through professional Twitter PR teams. Trust me – there’s a business there just waiting to develop. You know the bigger agencies are already offering it.

In his diatribe, Reznor also shared his desires for the kind of social platform he’d like to see:

I had thought a while ago about attempting to start a mainstream public forum that required real verification of it’s participants for purposes of context. The idea was to have a place where you can actually discuss whatever and have some idea of who you’re conversing with. For example, if we were discussing drumming techniques and you can see that someone participating in the discussion is a drum instructor vs. a 13 year old kid Googling answers, you’d have the proper context in which to have a potentially valid discussion. If we were discussing EDLC’s heart condition and a real cardiologist speaks up, I’d value his opinion over, say FredFuckFaceWhateverHisLastFuckingNameIs’s “opinion”. Know what I mean? Anyway, we’re in a world where the mainstream social networks want any and all people to boost user numbers for the big selloff and are not concerned with the quality of experience.

It’ll be interesting to see if post-Twitter he now pursues this opportunity. If a secure take on Twitter is feasible – the original isn’t actually making any money, after all – I wonder if a few other big names might be happy to accept an invitation to join. And Twitter without the celebrities means a lot less hype, which likely means a lot less Twitter.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that the official Nine Inch Nails Twitter account, which is and always has been a feed, is still active.