What Does Your Twitter Bio Say About You?

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According to the New York Times article, Twitter Bios and What They Really Say, what a person writes in their Twitter bio actually say a lot about them.  Author Teddy Wayne says, “The Twitter bio is a postmodern art form, an opportunity in 160 characters or fewer to cleverly synopsize one’s professional and personal accomplishments, along with a carefully edited non sequitur or two.” The recent article focuses on both celebrities and the not so famous and how they choose to present themselves through the social media platform. Most aim to highlight traits that make them special or things they are most proud of, such as being a Dad. When it comes to celebrities, Wayne says there are three potential hazards: humble brags, unchecked self-promotion and the blandly literal. An example of would be Tom Hanks attempting to be a modest actor or Lady Gaga telling fans to buy her new album. Among politicians, literary writers and comedians, there seems to be trends on what to focus on and what to ignore. Politicians focus on their families and sports teams, writers on their books or quotes, and comedians on parody or self-ridicule. Some bios inspired by famous movie characters, such as Darth Vader, are playful and make for a hilarious read.

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Twitter users generally try to sustain a coherent, yet continuously revised, biographical narrative. This idea is presented in Anthony Giddens’ Reflexive Project of the Self. In the brief Twitter bio, which can be updated at any time, celebrities can promote their upcoming role in a film or the release of their single. Those who are and aren’t famous can update their relationship status, a change in their career, a new addition to the family or a blooming hobby or interest. Your audience may expect you to focus on a certain aspect of your life, even though you may want to show that you have other interests. Rob Delaney, a comedian interviewed for the NY Times article says, “When a major league pitcher puts in ‘barbecue enthusiast’ or ‘astronomer,’ I’m like, ‘I don’t care: you’re a pitcher.’ When people try to let everyone know just how delicious and multifaceted they are, I think that’s silly.” I disagree with Rob. Identity goes beyond just one facet. Presentation, especially as a celebrity, requires that you can attract multiple audiences. Papacharissi discusses this in her article, Without You I’m Nothing: Performances the Self on Twitter.

“Performing a networked self requires the crafting of polysemic presentations that make sense to diverse audiences and publices without compromising one’s own sense of self” (Papacharissi 13).

Just because a pitcher puts that he likes astronomy doesn’t mean astronomers will follow him on Twitter, but I still think he has a right to maintain the image of sports player while incorporating outside interests. Hilary Clinton, in response to being called “likable enough” to the American public, made the seemingly “perfect” bio in which she shared a multifaceted look at her persona, complete with both the political and the playful: “pantsuit afictionado, glass ceiling cracker”. She remained authentic to herself while giving her audience what they expected.

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There’s also something boyd discusses in her article,  I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse and the Imagined Audience called context collapse happening in Twitter Bios. Many different audiences are all merged in one place, which can cause problems for users.

“Context collapse creates an audience that is often imagined as its most sensitive members: parents, partners, and bosses” (boyd 12).

Because all of these members can see the bio, there is a level of self-censorship among users to prevent conflict or controversy. Wayne comments, “Athletes, too, provide less entertainment than one might hope for, whether out of fear of offending corporate owners and sponsors or a lack of verbal panache.” There have been quite a few athletes that have been reprimanded over tweeting the offensive. Back in 2011, Richard Mendenhall lost his endorsement with Champion after controversial tweets about the death of Osama Bin Laden. Wayne says, “Perhaps the most popular bio disclaimer is “Views are my own,” to differentiate between one’s tweets and one’s employer.” These words hold no legal power and people can still get fired by their bosses for sharing inappropriate tweets, but somehow some users find comfort in this phrase they don’t quite understand.

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Parody bio and blog post explaining the dangers of “All views my own”.

Overall, I believe that Teddy Wayne presents an article that focuses on Twitter in an insightful way. He doesn’t just look at celebrities, but also mentions users who may not have a wide viewership. I think it’s interesting that he focused on the bio, especially when most authors such as Papacharissi focus on tweets and hastags. The bio is usually thought of in terms of Myspace or Facebook, profile centric sites, but here with Twitter we see how on a content-centric site, a presentation of the self can be revealed in such a concise manner. He could have focused on specific tweets from celebrities, politicians, writers, students, parents, etc, but I don’t think that would have had the same effect as narrowing in on the bio. He shows us how Twitter users carefully construct their bios to present their self; it’s a declaration of  “This is who I am.” How that person measures their success in 160 characters or less is up to them, just as it’s up to the Twitter user who reads their bio, to interpret it.

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