There was cause for celebration all round this week when the First Lady, Michelle Obama, took to Twitter. The President’s wife’s account debuted on Thursday, and she’s already got almost 236,000 followers. It’s great to see that the White House continue to demonstrate an admirable ability to use social media to their advantage – Barack Obama already has nearly 12 million followers, and it’s clear his Twitter account is a hugely useful tool when the need for clear communication is at an all-time high. With the next election due in November, politicians all over the States have taken to social networking to ensure their message is heard loud and clear.
OK, so we’ve covered that those in power not only need, but have a legitimate use for Twitter. Now, let’s take a look at celebrities that wield slightly less power, such as Lily Allen, Ricky Gervais, Paris Hilton and Sarah Harding of Girls Aloud. These stars frequently let us know where they’re going, what they’re up to and with who, and, most importantly, who they’ve fallen out with. The internet is awash with Twitter spats – who could forget Lily Allen’s very famous online sparring match with then News of the World Showbiz Editor, Dan Wootton? What about Ricky Gervais’s fracas with members of the Christian community? However, what we have to ask ourselves is, is any of this appropriate? Surely these conflicts can be resolved via a phone call or email, not played out in the public arena so a bloodthirsty public can gather to watch what should be a private disagreement. Various stars have also come under fire for publicly sending their condolences via Twitter when another star suffers a tragedy, as their actions are construed as shameless namedropping. Sometimes, you have to wonder whether a handwritten note would do the job just as well.
The discomfort that Twitter presents to us when engaging with this level of celebrity is we’re still used to A and B-listers being intensely private individuals only presented to us through airbrushed magazines, newspapers and finely-managed TV interviews. In a way, seeing them with a ‘human’ side, a side that must drive their PR people mad, is disquieting. It’s bizarre to see an interview with a film star on their best behaviour, then read a less-than-complimentary tweet from them about something unpleasant they’ve just encountered. We pay these people to present, to act, to make music or to just plain look fabulous. Somehow, finding out they’ve just wet themselves in a lift ruins the illusion of glamour. When celebs become too ‘accessible’, the magic dies.
Maybe I should finish with an example of why silence is golden; let’s look at the famously-silent Kate Moss. Known throughout her career for refusing interviews and avoiding to court the paparazzi, her inaccessibility has only inspired growing interest in her career. I would guess that most people see Kate Moss as a beautiful, strangely silent and rather canny businesswoman – we haven’t been allowed to see much of her personal side, so her allure remains intact, despite the various scandals that have plagued her career.
Kate’s refusal to answer back to her critics has allowed her to behave in ways that suggest she doesn’t care what anybody thinks – thereby instantly making any criticism she receives instantly look slightly pointless. Her silence is reminiscent of the Hollywood stars of the 1940s, when it was considered ‘cheap’ to behave in anything less than a dignified manner. I’m not saying we should gag celebrities, far from it – but maybe it’s time to look at what being in the public eye actually means, and how unthinking social networking can sometimes irreversibly damage a career that’s been built on illusion itself.