Mar 09


FT + Proven By Science4 comments • 394 views

“Twittering” – as Mark pointed out in the pub last week – is how the Romans described the sounds made by ghosts in the classical underworld: spectral interactions, grey and fleeting. The topic had come up after we claimed on air that a percentage of the micro-messages released into the Twitteric aether issued from the dead. We had in mind a phantom undernet of hauntings: the ouija board as the original microblog. The truth of ghost twitters turns out to be more mundane, but just as intriguing in its way.

According to a New York Times article, many of the celebrities who have made Twitter jump into the mainstream are – gasp! – employing ghost writers to compose their 140-character updates. Some are transparent about this – Britney’s vastly popular account is run by Team Britney – others are at least honest: “It’s just like how a designer would work” says Kanye West.

He has a point – celebrity blogs have been ghost-written for a long time, why should celebrity micro-blogs be any different? But as I pointed out earlier this week, vociferous early adopters have made “authenticity” the cardinal virtue of Twitter. Even entertaining fiction is regarded as suspicious, let alone flat-out fakery. But fakery is deep in the web’s DNA – performative identity can be frowned on but it won’t go away.

Celebrities on Twitter are appealing partly because the 140-character limit is a democratising promise – Kanye, Solange, and Lily get exactly the same tools as you or I do to express themselves. And that raises the expectation that they are expressing themselves. I was originally going to compare ghost-twittering to lip-synching, which as most Freaky Trigger readers will know I don’t mind in the slightest. But there’s a difference: pop can transcend the circumstances of its production in a way microblogging doesn’t. Elvis doesn’t need to have been to jail for “Jailhouse Rock” to be effective. But when Snoop Dogg tweets about eating a sandwich, if it’s a non-existent Snoop eating a non-existent sandwich, the – already miniscule! – point of the exercise diminishes still further.

In other words, authenticity isn’t a guarantor of content, it’s a mask for it: strip away the presumed authorship and you’re forced to judge the content on very different terms. And here’s where ghost-twittering gets intriguing. Because it’s not just mainstream celebrities doing it. The NYT article talks to a “ghost-tweeter” for Guy Kawasaki, a prominent social media expert (the fashionable term is “rock star”) with 80,000 followers. This person tweets in Kawasaki’s name – the example given is while he’s on stage at a conference.

This has caused outrage among some Twitter users. “Shame on these imposters!” says one. In reply, another says, “It’s not like people were following Kawasaki for his brilliant insight”. So why were they? “For the connection”. Kawasaki himself is unapologetic – “This is old news”, he tweets, “Is the quality of my tweets high? That’s the question. Not who did them.”

My sympathy here is with Kawasaki, if only because I bet a lot of the people talking about “betrayal” would indeed have claimed that they followed him for the content, not the networking opportunity. And the content hasn’t changed one bit. Authenticity is often a good filter for content, but when it becomes the primary filter for content – a rule to be applied regardless of circumstance – most types of content suffer.

(But maybe I’m just scarred by having fought these kind of battles for years over pop music. Do social media rock stars automatically lead to social media rockism?)


  1. 1
    CarsmileSteve on 27 Mar 2009 #

    “It’s not like people were following Kawasaki for his brilliant insight”. So why were they? “For the connection”.


    these are the same types of idiots who thought that real life = RPGs from teh other week isn’t it?

  2. 2
    Tom on 27 Mar 2009 #


    Yes it is they.

  3. 3
    Jessica on 28 Mar 2009 #

    I can’t see the point in following a famous/influential person as a networking opportunity. Even if that person replies to one of your tweets, they have so many followers they’d never remember who you were. The only reason to follow is either to get news about that person, if their life is interesting, or to get news from that person, if they know things the general public don’t know. The best way to use Twitter for networking is to search for something you’re interested in, look at those who are mentioning it, and add the ones who would be useful (or just fun/interesting) people to know. The less followers they have, the better, cos then they’re more likely to notice you!

  4. 4
    Tom on 28 Mar 2009 #

    Well, I think the logic chain is.

    i. If I follow this person he may notice me.
    ii. If he notices me he may reply or – gasp! – retweet something I say.
    iii. Then all HIS followers will know who I am too.

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