As a confirmed Twitterholic, I’ve been very interested to learn about the recent explosion in Twitter traffic. Not so long ago, the microblogging service was mainly used by techies, social media experts and marketers. But in the past couple of months Twitter has seen a massive surge in popularity – due, in part, to the number of celebrity endorsements the site has had in the UK of late.
- October 2008: The Telegraph’s blog predicts that “If you haven’t heard of Twitter… it’s safe to say that you are about to”. Namechecking celebrity Twitterers Stephen Fry, Barack Obama and John Cleese, the article becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
- January 2009: The Daily Mail dismisses Twitter’s use by celebrities as “boring”, saying: “…Twitter…has cast a fascinating light on just how mundane, not to say downright dull, the day-to-day existence of many stars really is.”
- January 2009: Stephen Fry celebrates reaching 50,000 followers by setting a tweet competition. As the Roman numeral for 50 is L, the rules of the competition are that you have to send him a Tweet that is up to 140 characters long, containing exactly 50 Ls.
- January 2009: Stephen Fry discusses Twitter with Jonathan Ross on Ross’s chat show. Within days Fry reaches 100,000 followers, and Ross gains a few thousand new followers too.
- February 2009: Stephen Fry gets stuck in a lift in London’s Centrepoint building. And tweets about it, adding a photo to Twitpic to illustrate the tale.
- February 2009: Phillip Schofield and Andi Peters talk about Twitter on the Chris Moyles Show on Radio 1. Moyles joins Twitter to see what all the fuss is about – quickly followed by the rest of his team (Aled Jones, Dominic Byrne, Rachel Jones, Carrie Davies and Matt Fincham) and several other Radio 1 DJs (Greg James, Huw Stephens, Fearne Cotton and Scott Mills) – and so do tens of thousands of listeners, who immediately follow all the Radio 1 Tweeters and any other celebrities they can find.
There’s something quite amusing about the number of people that have joined Twitter purely because that’s where their celebrity idols hang out. It’s the online equivalent of lurking outside a stage door with an autograph book, or hanging around the Hawley Arms in Camden Town because you’ve heard that that’s where Amy Winehouse drinks.
Funny, yes, but it’s a tad irritating too. I asked my Twitter friends what they thought about the recent surge of Twitter users, lured to the site by the prospect of interacting with celebrities. While there were some positive replies, one friend – a techie, who has used the site for about two years – complained: “It’s making a farce out of it – it should be about conversations between equals and peers, not about following celebrities.”
Mind you, it’s all quite entertaining. I’ve had a fair few giggles when I’ve stumbled across Twitterers whose entire contribution to Twitter’s timeline has consisted of @ replies to celebrities, and exclamations of “OMG this is like sooo addictive” (and it is, too; Twitter’s search area has pages and pages of tweets about how addictive Twitter is, and as a confirmed Twitterholic I’m not going to argue with that).
And in fairness, some of these celebrity followers are pretty good at unmasking the inevitable fake celebrity accounts set up by pranksters who have a huge amount of fun duping Twitter’s hordes of celeb-spotters. These impostors create paranoia in the Twitter community, sometimes with amusing consequences; John Cleese, for example, made a film to confirm his Twitter account’s authenticity, while other celebrity Tweeters must be sick and tired of constant demands from followers to prove that they’re genuine by posting photos of themselves to Twitpic.
Within hours of Jonathan Ross revealing Russell Brand’s Twitter ID, a tricky trickster had set up an account with an almost identically spelled username and started following all of Brand’s followers. He almost fooled me. Almost. And then it was left to poor Wossy to repeatedly reassure his followers that Russell Brand’s username is definitely rustyrockets, plural – not rustyrocket, singular.
But the most successful fake celebrity on Twitter, as far as I’m concerned, is “Dean Gaffney”.
His friendliness and humility are so convincing that for a week or so I had no reason to think he wasn’t genuine. It was only when I started looking at the photos he’d posted to prove he was Dean Gaffney – and the comments pointing out that the Photoshopping of said photos was hilariously rubbish – that I realised I’d been duped. And then laughed and laughed and laughed at my own gullibility.
I was intrigued. What makes someone go to the trouble of setting up a fake Twitter account in the name of a celebrity – and a not-very-high-profile one, at that? So I conducted a very short interview with Gojira (not his real name), a 22 year old SEO/Internet marketer in the North West of England, via a series of direct messages on Twitter.
“[It’s a] social experiment conjured up by two mates after a drinking session and a debate about how stupid the average person on social networks are,” he says, “and to see how far we could get it.”
And are people stupid?
“People are… haha… People being unsure about how genuine the account is has added to its popularity.”
Followers of the fake Dean Gaffney have asked to see proof of his identity. How will Gojira get around that?
“The real Dean is now aware of it and is going to be sending me a photo of himself holding the day’s newspaper, which I’m going to post.”
I’ve had my suspicions that “Scott Mills” isn’t genuine… are you behind that too?
“No, I’m not Scott Mills, but a real “famous” person got in touch with me and asked me to set them up an account etc, which I did.”
And how much longer do you plan to keep up the subterfuge?
“[We’ve] been on the TV (The Wright Stuff) and on the radio. [We only] need a newspaper appearance now and we will quit.”
All this celebrity hoo-ha aside – and to be honest, while some celebrity Tweeters are genuinely interesting and interested, there are disappointing ones too – Twitter is a truly special place. These little scandals and excitements rippling through the Twitter community add a warmth and genuine feeling of connectivity to an online society which, in my opinion at least, knocks spots off the big boys of social networking. Facebook, with its pokes and pointless apps, can occasionally be fun in a “forgetting you’re an adult for five minutes” way; and MySpace is great for discovering new music, although users are quickly swamped with “friend bulletins” and spammy profile comments. But it’s only on Twitter that you can wonder aloud about the best way to tweet from your mobile phone and within minutes have dozens of suggestions from people who are only too happy to help.
Is Twitter addiction such a terrible thing? I don’t think so. I’m barely embarrassed at all about the fact that, when my cat stole a defrosting salmon fillet from my draining board, instead of getting upset I took a photo and tweeted it. Yes, it’s a little sad. But if Stephen Fry can tweet from a broken down lift, there’s no reason I can’t tweet from my kitchen floor.
Without my Twitter addiction, I wouldn’t know so many interesting and lovely people, all over the world. I talk to people in Australia at the same time as I’m talking to people in Switzerland. Without Twitter I wouldn’t know about T-Enterprise, who make excellent Flash games that you can embed on your website for free (I’ll be giving that a try soon – cheers guys). I wouldn’t have connected with Williams Holidays, who have kindly agreed to help me with ideas for a holiday website I’m building. I wouldn’t have ‘met’ the lovely Daniele at Busting Diva, with whom I’m planning a fun project to get revenge on all the porn sites that hijack our websites’ contact forms several times a day. And I wouldn’t have discussed Welsh history with Ant in Sydney, or pagan philosophy with Nicola in Nottinghamshire.
I’m thoroughly addicted to Twitter, and that’s fine by me. Thank you Suw, for nagging me to join. You were right, and I’m only too happy to admit it.