Celebrity twitter doesn’t matter

In the UK in particular, Twitter has gone mainstream over the past few weeks. This has largely been due to Jonathan Ross (@wossy) and Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) both becoming keen users and discussing it on Ross's chat show. Radio 1's Chris Moyles (@obnoxious – oh, ok @chrisdjmoyles) has also been recruiting a new wave of followers. This meant every chat show, news station, newspaper and opinion writer has been talking about Twitter.

This means we've had a raft of pieces along the lines of 'I don't know why people would want to tell everyone what they had for lunch'. Sigh. Technology seems to be the only subject area where the journalist can display their ignorance as a kind of credential: 'You can trust my opinion because I have never tried this.' I would like to see the same principle applied to film reviews: 'I haven't seen The Reader, but….'

Anyway, that's as it's always been. Personally I've never got the whole celebrity thing, so them coming on to twitter doesn't bother me. Yes, I'm not even sure I like Stephen Fry particularly. Obviously there's nothing wrong with it, although I did briefly experience that feeling familiar to a teenager who has been following an indie band and finds they suddenly become popular. Just as print can give us Proust and OK magazine, so Twitter can handle a range of communication uses.

My beef with the celebritisation (that's not a word is it?) of Twitter is twofold: Firstly, I think if you're signing up for twitter to follow celebrities, you'll miss the point of it. A conversation with a celebrity is not a normal conversation. It is unequal, and this skews the conversation. But if that's what people want from their use of it, that's fine.

My second reservation relates more to the way the news, and society in general legitimises something. It doesn't matter if hundreds of thousands of people use something and find it useful, until a celebrity uses it, and this legitimises it. There is now something for journalists to hang their report off. This is just lazy as it means they don't have to actually investigate it – they can report around the subject.

A similar effect occurs with business – any technology is seen as frivolous until some 'gurus' start telling companies how they can make money from it. And then it becomes serious.

Here's the truth: YOU legitimise technology. Celebrities and business are a side-show.


  • Sacha Van Straten

    Does it really matter whether the press legitimise a new technology or not? And is it relevant if a celebrity is using an online service?
    The fact that thousands are using Twitter, and doing so in ways that are meaningful to them, surely is the proof that for many people press endorsement is an irrelevance.
    That said, I found reading Will Carling’s acerbic comments during yesterday’s England/Ireland rugby match far more entertaining than anything the official BBC commentators had to say.

  • Phil Greaney

    I’m glad you’ve written on this – and there’s a real flavour of the democracy of tech tools about your post. This is really great – I agree completely. I think some celebs make more effort than others – than I make clear in my post about celeb tweeting here – but others consider it just another broadcast medium for flogging their product.
    It isn’t.
    It reminds me of how we (some of us at least) consider these kinds of social networking tools to represent a world as how we might like it to be rather than how it is.

  • AJ Cann

    I think the publicity was inevitable, it’s up to us now as educators how we manage the influx. I’m reminded of ze frank’s long running joke on The Show, “Have the noobs gone yet?”.

  • Stephen Downes

    > YOU legitimise technology. Celebrities and business are a side-show.
    WE know this. The traditional media doesn’t. Which is why the companies that produce newspapers and television channels are failing, one after another.

  • Sue Waters

    Same thing is also happening here in Australia. Lately it has felt like every news, newspaper or radio whenever I turn them on or pick them up is talking about twitter. Like you I also feel the frustration that ‘celebrity’ use has made people pay attention.
    Sad to say many friends who use twitter enjoy following celebrities. Maybe it is no different from reading gossip columns but instead you are getting it first hand? Not for me!

  • Sue Waters

    @AJ Just clarifying – what you are saying is there is a slight distinction between celebrities and gossip magazines because they might actually answer you back?
    If so, yes have to agree that is probably the case – where else other than blogs would the normal person has an opportunity to interact with a celebrity?
    Ultimately I suppose it gets back to why you use Twitter. I’m interested in the conversation aspect. Which is why I choose not to follow celebrities just as I choose not to follow some of the well known edubloggers.

  • Harriet Wakelam

    Oh, but there’s nothing like a bit of celebrity gossip and the opportunity of a moment of fame to make people feel special..
    Who knows, maybe it’ll even help reduce the cult of celebrity we’ve been suffering under!

  • Will Reader

    I follow Stephen Fry (but NOT Jonathan Ross FFS) and find his tweets to be surprisingly dull. Guess I’m more interested in people’s ideas than their lives. Hence the tweets I prefer are those whose value is unrelated to the person who sent them (links, jokes, *interesting* experiences). Of course tweets by friends may only be interesting by virtue of your knowing the person. Which kinda makes friends like celebrities (or more correctly, vice versa)

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