A few weeks ago I wrote a bit about Twitter and “big room” syndrome. As a post-script, I shall add the following tale.
A couple of days ago I tweeted that I had talked a friend out of buying a book by a famous author. For the sake of discretion, let’s call him Melvin Croissant. I have never read any of his books, although I’ve seen him on telly a few times and thought he was a bit rubbish, in the same way that I assume Paolo Nutini and Pixie Lott are rubbish at music despite never having heard their songs. It’s not an informed opinion, just a vague feeling of antipathy.
Anyway, my friend Matthew was in a bookshop with me and was pondering buying a book by Mr Croissant. I told Matthew to get something more stimulating instead (he eventually bought a lovely book of historical photos of Muswell Hill and Highgate). I wrly tweeted something along the lines of “I persuaded someone not to buy a book by Melvin Croissant. It felt good.” and thought no more about it.
Until the following day, when I got an email through my website from Melvin Croissant himself. He seemed quite irate that I had started a one-man campaign to stop people buying his book.
I was somewhat stupefyed, but replied saying that it had been a throwaway comment and that I didn’t actually travel the country, sneaking into bookshops and persuading strangers not to buy his books. I also said that had I known he was following the conversation I would have been more discreet. I mentioned that I had forgotten that many public figures have default searches for their name on Twitter.
Everything was amicably resolved. I have since deleted the offending tweets (mainly so you can read this blog post without searching to find out Melvin Croissant’s true identity). But I thought it raised some interesting issues. In a sense there are two Melvin Croissants. One is the public figure, in the public arena, who is fair game for criticism. And one is Melvin Croissant the human being, who probably gets annoyed when people claim that they have talked people out of buying his book.
The fantastic thing about Twitter is that it’s a great leveller. It narrows the gap between celebrities and the ordinary public. This means that I can discuss politics with politicians or swap jokes with comedians (or in some cases comedians can nick my jokes and use them in newspaper articles) but it also means that you have to be careful about what you tweet.
If I were to tweet: “My God, sometimes I want to smash Nicolas Cage to death with a large spade.” then I would consider it a vaguely amusing response to the fact that Nicolas Cage is a mostly bad actor with a ridiculous face, who has appeared in many terrible films. I wouldn’t consider it a personal attack on Nicolas Cage, because I’ve never met the man and I’ve no idea whether he’s a lovely person or an idiot. But were he to read my tweet and respond, I’d probably feel quite sheepish. We’re accustomed to an ironic distance between celebrities and the public. This allows us a safe area to play with the perception of that celebrity. Think about how many times you’ve sat in a pub or at a party, doing impressions of the idiots on television or deconstructing just why Little Britain isn’t very funny. In my case, it’s quite a lot of time. Anyway, with Twitter that ironic distance is narrowed. I’ve started being much more careful about what I say about public figures, because I now realise they may be watching me.
I’ve noticed that quite a few public figures have automated searches set up on Tweetdeck (or equivalent Twitter gizmos) to show them every time someone types their name. I would find that quite a depressing thing to do. Obviously, celebrities want to know if someone is spreading lies or slandering them, but mostly what they will find is people saying that they are fat, or stupid or handsome or annoying or look like a block of cheese. And it must be very tempting to get involved, to correct misconceptions or defend their corner – because with Twitter, unlike with a bad book review on Amazon or a withing put-down on television, the celebrity gets a chance to intervene directly in what the public is saying. If I were famous, I don’t think I’d want to know what the public were saying about me at any given time. It would probably destroy me.