Those of you who are Tweeters or who keep up with those who Tweet will be aware of yesterday's little spat
between Stephen Fry, the celebrated actor, blogger, nerd, and Tweeter, and another Tweeter, who called his tweets "boring".
Fry then suddenly bade farewell to Twitter, saying that there was "Too much aggression and unkindness around." This touched off a firestorm of indignation among many of Fry's 900,000+ followers, who implored him not to leave, heaped opprobrium on the other Tweeter, and generally roiled the placid waters in which Twitter's Fail Whale often swims.
The other Tweeter apologised, Fry apologised for his reaction (which was possibly due to his bipolar disorder), and the shitstorm died down.
I am not a celebrity, nor do I play one on TV. This little incident demonstrates the dangers of Twitter and blogging in general for celebrities. Fry has cut down dramatically on the amount of his Tweeting, and I'll bet a cookie that this incident will cut it down even more. But when he was Tweeting dozens of times per day, and garnering many followers, he got himself a reputation. His followers came to expect witty Wildean aperçus, interesting tidbits of technical lore, and various observations about Fry's day and the things he gets up to. When the number of tweets from Fry fell, the ones that were left might have seemed a bit pedestrian compared to his more voluminous previous output. Thus, boring.
Observation No. 1: Tweeters and bloggers are under no obligation to entertain, amuse, inform, or titillate readers. If something you're reading is boring, refrain from making that observation—just go on and read something else.
Observation No. 2: Celebrity Tweeters and bloggers are especially under no obligation mentioned in Observation No. 1. Before the Age of Blogging and Tweeting arrived in the late 1990's, people's only usual contact with celebrities was on the stage, screen, TV, or radio, and in the newspapers. Some few may have asked for an autograph, or entered into correspondence for various reasons. But most people never communicated with celebrities. Now, if a well-known person blogs or Tweets they are communicating instantly with perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and anyone can talk back by producing an @-reply. Within a few years it was possible to see the well-known and famous walking with feet of clay, putting their trousers on one foot at a time, and being as ordinary as you or I. This is not normally a good thing for the famous.
Case in point: the Queen's breakfast tray has recently been shown in the newspapers. It's old, the cups and other containers are chipped, and it could be found in almost any of our homes across Britain. The usual opinions about the Queen's eating habits include references to gold flatware, crystal goblets, and bone china. Discovering that the Queen scoops her muesli out of Tupperware containers removes some of the mystique.
Now, imagine if the Queen were to begin Tweeting…HMtheQ
: The footman has just turned his back on us while leaving the room. We r not amused. What do u think? #rudeHMtheQ
: We and Chazza beside ourselves with worry; Harry has turned up drunk saying that Chelsy is expecting. Pics at 11.HMtheQ
: Muesli for our brekker STALE! Heads will roll! #TowerofLondonHMtheQ
: It's Tues & we have 2 see that awful Scot Gordon Brown AGAIN. If he brags about his prudence 1 mor time we'll put im in the stocks—MUAHAHAHAHA!@HMtheQ
: UrMaj, all u do iz complain! Ur loyl subjects r fed-up with ur boring tweets. Shut ur piehole, Lizzy!@HMtheQ
: Y don't u stop ur moaning and go back 2 Krautland with Phil the Greek; we want a real English K & Q: King Beckham the 1st & Queen Vicky!
Hm. Her Majesty's royal mystique would be pretty well in tatters by the time she picked herself off the Persian rug.
Stephen Fry would be well-advised to limit his tweeting and consider carefully before pressing ENTER.
Observation No. 3: In common with almost all social networking tools Twitterers who are following other Twitterers are said to have "friends". The abuse of the term "friend" for what is almost always a casual, sometimes imaginary, relationship has confused millions of computer users. I have lots of social networking friends. I have only met a fraction of them. A larger, but still fractional, portion I have corresponded with. So are these and everyone else on my "Friends" list actual "Friends"?
Confusing online "Friends" with real, live friends is a fatal mistake. Friends are people who hold you when you have been bereaved, who visit you in the hospital when you're sick and whom you visit when they're sick. Friends are people who mutually can finish each other's sentences and laugh about it. Friends are people whom you'd give your housekeys to if you needed someone to water your plants while you're away. Friends are people you can tell about your first love, your most recent love, the love you're planning to have when the current one is through. Friends are people who help you move out of your former lover's flat. Friends are, well, FRIENDS
When someone de-"friends" you it is not a tragedy unless you are meatspace friends with that person and they are de-"friending" you because you are no longer FRIENDS. When you de-"friend" someone you have never met, with whom you have hardly ever interacted, and with whom you have little or nothing in common, it is not the end of the world and you should not hesitate one picosecond.
Final Observation: If one is a celebrity, and one wants to Tweet, one should hand the Twitter account over to one's publicist, who is probably (not certainly) much better at handling such idle chatter than one is.
Note to my LJ and other friends: I do not mean to denigrate the relationship we have on Live Journal or elsewhere. I read everything, comment on whatever I think is worth commenting on, and want to keep up with your lives, Tweets, and blogs as much as I can. If we ever meet in person, I would be honoured to develop a meatspace friendship with most if not all of you. Until then, our online friendship is precious to me and, I hope to you, but isn't a personal friendship until it's validated. Thanks for all the online fun we've shared!