In 2011, when Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd’s “To Seen and Be Seen: Celebrity practice on Twitter” was published, Twitter was a space that was still fairly premature. With 175 million users in 2011, though only about half that amount following 2 or more people , the social media platform was only just beginning to rise into mainstream culture, becoming the new “it” site. (Facebook in the same year had reached 600 million active monthly users.) While at the time Twitter was popular by the means of celebrities and fans already, a large part of its allure, the past two recent years have allowed Twitter to fully develop into a cultural space for discussion.
On November 7, 2013, Twitter formally released its IPO at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, deeming it a public company. Prior to this date, there had been much buzz generated regarding the future of Twitter. Eventually with its impressive 232 million active users (651 million total registered accounts ), Twitter raked in $31 billion, the largest initial public offering since Facebook in 2012. That number, worth and buzz leading as well as after the IPO date speaks much for company itself as well as its highly anticipated future stemming beyond its initial attraction of including celebrities.
At the same time, two years later, much of what Marwick and Boyd state in their article still perverse. Microcelebrity is “popularity maintained through ongoing fan management”. The concept of self-presentation, as introduced by Erving Goffman, expounded upon in the article, is still carefully constructed to be easily consumed by others. For fans and observers, Twitter serves as a mini press release for the personality. Each tweet could have significant backlash or vice versa, adding onto the predisposed judgments of that character. An interesting question to ask, one that raised more and more these past couple of years due to recent events would be: to what degree could we consider the level of authenticity as an accurate portrayal of the celebrity personality rather than a performance?
Two examples could perhaps better contrast and explain this theory. Miley Cyrus, after her infamous VMA performance, has only followed up with her Twitter behavior. With frequent use of profanity as well as risqué images, she capitalizes on “no press is bad press”, turning herself into an edgy it girl, yet somehow landing herself as the host of Saturday Night Live, muse of Marc Jacobs and a documentary by MTV. Conveniently having her singles and album debut a week after the VMA performance, she makes sure to promote her new singles more frequently than ever to her 15 million followers, addressing them with the intimate nickname of “smilers”. Within just a couple days, her music video for “Wrecking Ball” had hit over 100 million views on Youtube, a record. Of course, her constant tweeting about it helped. Whether you like her or not, you’ve got to give the girl some credit. She’s a businesswoman, very clear of her goals and target audience. Miley has changed her performance for her audience and brand, gone from the good girl days.
Kanye West, on the other hand, known as famed, often cocky rapper, recently has been causing controversy for his pompous declaration of “I Am A God”, the title of one of his latest singles . Furthermore, his highly publicized relationship with reality star with Kim Kardashian (commonly known as “Kimye” only exaggerates his personality in the limelight. In early September, Kanye started a very rigorous Twitter Feud with Jimmy Kimmel, who made a spoof of Kanye’s BBC Radio interview. Not seeing the humor in the situation, Kanye took Twitter in very humorous ways to be vocal about his feelings. Immediately, press took notice and before long a very public feud was announced between the comedian and the rapper. It would be hard to imagine that as the art of some crafty PR person. Now, the rapper, to many observers’ dismay, has deleted those tweets among many other ones from his personal, public Twitter account, leaving instead ones that promote his tour. It seems that even more so now that those previous tweets were portrayals of his authentic personality. Marwick and Boyd would deem this kind of behavior as both authentic and sincere, the latter defined as “the opposite of hypocrisy-honestly without pretense”.
Twitter is significant to the entertainment industry in that it is a different kind of platform for publicity from traditional means. Celebrities can interact with fans, promote and clarify rumors or attempt to extend their “15 minutes of fame”. Part of the allure behind the following of celebrity personalities is trying to figure out if it is the authentic figure behind the 140 characters or if it is their professional management behind the supposed “self-construction” element of Twitter. In the third scenario of having a combination of management and artist, which Tweet is by whom? The degree of ambiguity behind a publicized figure will remain a question for a while at least. However, we should probably try to understand their situation (especially if they have a boring, promotional Twitter account). It’s hard sometimes to find a friend who is completely authentic and sincere on Twitter, let alone someone who has paparazzi on their every move.