Love it or loathe it, Twitter is here to stay. The social media platform passed 500 million user accounts this summer, and even if you’re not one of them, you can’t escape its reach. Newspapers, TV, and websites all report incidents and stories that originated on Twitter now. Its reach is far and wide.
Celebrities, in particular, have taken to the platform in droves to promote their wares and share their opinions on the world. For most of them, Twitter acts as a kind of echo chamber where they can bask in the adulation of fans. But the comments aren’t always so peaceful.
Twitter users can and do send messages to insult or challenge anyone they disagree with. Discussion runs the gamut from genuine debate, to trolling, to outright abuse. When an ordinary Joe gets in a scuffle, it’s quickly lost in the noise of constant chatter. When a celebrity encounters the same, there is loyal army lying in wait. And these minions are happy to take action on a famous favorite’s behalf.
Sometimes the action they take is seriously out of proportion. Justin Bieber fans attacked a charity that helps provide access to water for people in third-world countries. How did the Thirst Project draw the ire of these “Beliebers”? The face of the Thirst Project, Drake Bell, mentioned that he thought Bieber was too young at 18 to be touting a biopic. The pick of the bunch from their hateful tweets was “@DrakeBell @ThirstProject Who wants to help those jungle bunnies anyway?”
It remains a mystery to most of us how Bieber inspires such a rabidly fanatical fan base, but we can keep looking forward to the day Satan calls his contract in. Bieber’s fans even an undercover policeman on Twitter after he dived on the pre-pubescent star, mistakenly thinking there was a threat in the crowd.
Fans of Lady Gaga unleashed a similar attack on Kelly Osbourne after she criticized the pop diva for skipping the red carpet at the Grammy awards. She was told she was fat, she should kill herself, and some fans even wished rape and aids on her.
If that’s the kind of action fans will take unprompted, can you imagine the potential storm celebs could unleash by asking their fans to attack someone? Well, you don’t have to.
British comedian Noel Fielding got angry when Waldemar Januszczak, art critic for The Sunday Times, criticized his interview with artist Damien Hirst. Fielding tweeted to his followers “yesterday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak layed into me on Twitter because channel four asked me to interview Damien Hirst” and went on, “I thought it would be fun if me and all my followers went onto his Twitter and insulted him. Just to be childish.”
Januszczak received a wave of insulting tweets calling him everything from “a pedophile rapist” to “a stuck up piece of shit.”
Well-known comedian Ricky Gervais (creator of The Office amongst other things), is also notorious for inciting his fans to attack people on Twitter. Some of the people who have sent insulting tweets to Gervais, or even just tweets that he doesn’t agree with, have been hounded by his fans. Gervais reposts tweets he has received with the user’s name so his fans can have a go.
One post started with “I’ve caught a Troll. Block or expose? You decide. Vote now. Haha” and after some encouragement from fans he posted “Unanimous. I give you a sad troll….”@DanielHolland31” Read all his tweets. Enjoy.”
Tackling trolls is one thing. Sending your fans into battle for you is something else. If they do something beyond the pale, is the celeb culpable?
You might think it’s all a big fuss over nothing stateside, but the police in the UK are arresting more and more people over Twitter abuse. How long before the courtroom defense is “I was only following orders”? And what happens if a victim of fan abuse commits suicide? Of course it swings both ways; celebs get a huge amount of abuse as well. Australia’s Next Top Model judge Charlotte Dawson claimed Twitter abuse was behind her suicide attempt last summer.
How about celebs posting links to bad reviews and nudging their fans, or even trying to start boycott campaigns? Lupe Fiasco got a bad review from Spin magazine recently and called for a boycott. He tweeted “And now that you have my attention @notrivia I intend to do my best to expose you and your publication 4 ur actions #BoycottSpinMagazine.” Shouldn’t performers be thick-skinned enough to take a bad review?
Then there were Trump’s post-election tweets. Trump tweeted, “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!” and went on, “This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!”
An unexpected attack on Trump came from an unlikely source on Sunday. Cher tweeted, ““I’ll NEVER GO TO MACY’S AGAIN ! I didnt know they sold Donald Trump’s Line! If they don’t care that they sell products from a LOUDMOUTH RACIST CRETIN,WHO’D LIE LIKE “HIS RUG” TO GET SOME CHEAP PRESS ! I CANT BELIEVE MACY’S THINKS HE’S THE RIGHT “MAN” 2 REPRESENT THEIR NAME!”
Trump replied that she should concentrate on her “dying career” and mentioned “massive plastic surgeries that didn’t work” but then he said “It’s amazing how people can talk about me but I’m not allowed to talk about them.”
That final tweet says a lot about Twitter. Everyone seems to cast themselves as the victim.
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