Grab the Imodium, And Get Ready to Roll With America's 'Tweethearts'

If you want to make yourself just a little queasy, have I got the read for you: it's Vanity Fair's ode to "America's Tweethearts," six women who, if the picture of them is any guide, tweet while wearing only tightly-belted trench coats and high heels.

There's some sort of fantasy (or as Vanity Fair might call it, Tweet-esy) there, but as this is a family social media column, I won't go there. What I will say is that the picture and accompanying story is just the sort of breathless depiction of Twitter as a vapid cultural wasteland that makes it such a turn-off for reasonable people who might otherwise get a lot out of it. This strikes me as particularly misguided right now, when social media is helping us get a feel for the size and scope of the tragic earthquake in Haiti, and spreading the word about donations; and, on a lesser note, is serving as a place to rally support for beleaguered "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien.

Here are some of the story's cringe-worthy excerpts, starting with the story's subhead:

"By endlessly typing 140-character messages, Stefanie Michaels, Amy Jo Martin, Felicia Day, and others have gained millions of Twitter followers. It's a new kind of fame - twilebrity - with its own rules, risks, and pecking order.

"Twilebrities are people -- 'tweeple,' in twitspeak -- who spend their days typing 140-character messages into a digital rumpus room of about 55 million monthly users.

"For tweeple, e-mail messages are sonnets, Facebook is practically Tolstoy.

"According to a study of 1.5 million tweets, released this year by Oxford University Press, the words 'cool,' 'awesome,' 'wow,' and 'yay' are among the most common on Twitter -- and it's a safe guess that most twilebrities use them as freely as Laguna High freshmen.

"Those of us who still read are hoping this is a jump-the-shark moment -- could this be the Internet's version of reality TV?"

I could go on, but you don't want me to, do you? Good, neither do I.

I should take a moment to admit that we all know this side of Twitter exists. But stories such as this paint Twitter as hopelessly trendy, not something that serious people should bother themselves with. Using the shorthand that clichés provide, the story's author, Vanessa Grigoriadis, describes the husband of one "twilebrity" as "a real-estate appraiser with horn-rims and a crew cut." In other words, he's the smart one, while his silly wife sits and tweets at the dinner table.

Get it? Twitter is merely a pathway to celebrity. Nothing else to see here, move on.

While I'm on this rant, another thought comes to mind: that the subtext of stories like this is the threat that traditional media sees in social media. Why else would someone write the phrase, "Those of us who still read ...", as though hinting that tweeting makes people illiterate? The very thought that America's Tweethearts could get the followers they do without the need of say, Vanity Fair, or any other channel controlled by traditional media,is in and of itself threatening.

No, this Twitter thing can't be real, can it? Not a chance, so don't bother yourself with it. Go read a book. And make sure it's not on a Kindle.

10 comments about "Grab the Imodium, And Get Ready to Roll With America's 'Tweethearts'".
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  1. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC, January 13, 2010 at 5:03 p.m.

    It amazes me that a well-regarded writer for a well-regarded publication could be so ignorant about social media. The smarmy tone of the article was indeed cringe-worthy but the anthropological take was just bizarre.

  2. Maribel Lackey from Zuno Studios, January 13, 2010 at 6:03 p.m.

    I completely agree with you both Ronald and Catharine. I can't begin to say how much social media has helped me grow my business. I've connected with new clients, resources and people who have now become friends. It has been an invaluable tool. To say that it's nothing more than a pathway to celebrity is to not understand it. Surprising coming from a publication like Vanity Fair.

  3. Julie Gallaher from Things You Should Do, January 13, 2010 at 6:24 p.m.

    Don't we so snarky! It's called Social Media; social communication always includes at least some light-hearted, fun and frivolous content or you won't make friends. These women are successful online because they combine happy and serious

  4. Rowan Kerek robvertson from BBC, January 14, 2010 at 5:45 a.m.

    Thanks Catherine, funny to see that article - I've mentioned your article here

    For me the VF piece just somehow misses the fact that the joy of twitter isn't about an elite group. Twitter's pecking order is meaningless to most who use it, isn't it? Isn't its unique selling point that it's about good content and interesting, timely thoughts and information? It's possible that photo does some of those girls a disservice, likening them to a stereotype that they're probably not in, and making them look a little more air headed than they possibly are... maybe I'm reading too much into it.

  5. Leyla Arsan from Lotus Marketing, January 14, 2010 at 12:54 p.m.

    I love the impact that this article has made on people. I love all the blog posts about "people that Vanity Fair neglected to mention". There is a lot of jealousy bouncing around if you ask me.

    The bottom line is, those ladies are CUTE! They are worthy of the pages of a magazine. You may be a "social media maven" with 40K followers and a lot of relevant information but you probably look best behind your computer. Let's face it people, looking good matters when you want to be in print or on TV.

  6. Michael Draznin from Michael Draznin Consulting, January 15, 2010 at 12:18 a.m.

    my first reaction to the article: ugh!! (definitely influenced by the photo.) then i saw the reporter's name and it clicked. VANESSA GRIGORIADIS, the same reporter writing nearly the same story, certainly in the same style and tone as she did several years ago when she brought instant fame to Lizzy Grubman and crew in a New York magazine feature. they supposedly were the "next coming" in the public relations profession. almost as cringe-worthy as last year's ridiculous NY Times Sunday magazine feature about the "new power brokers" of Silicon Valley. how many times will we be exposed to a repeat of the same editorial nonsense?

  7. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., January 15, 2010 at 1:25 p.m.

    They have a more socially- respectable form of Tweeting that allows you to demonstrate your depth and sophistication in more than 140 characters. It's called email. It's what "adults" use for "business".

  8. Jordan Kettner from Enquiro, January 16, 2010 at 2:06 a.m.

    It's crazy that the Vanity Fair article didn't mention a single positive. Not even the fact that there have been millions of dollars raised for charities and disaster relief.

    Evan Williams (founder of Twitter) has a video on TED (and YouTube) where he discusses all of the crazy ways people use Twitter to report information on forest fires, cheap gas prices, and locations of famously delicious BBQs on wheels.

    It can be full of self promoters from time to time, but you can't ignore the benefits of Tiwtter

  9. Jennifer Jarratt from Leading Futurists, LLC, January 18, 2010 at 5:56 p.m.

    What's striking is how similar those young women are in the picture. They might be clones of each other. I assume the mini-trench coats are the magazine's property. Stepford wives, maybe? Or aliens, colonizing our social networks.

  10. Amber Cox from Think Well Consulting, January 26, 2010 at 2:26 p.m.

    I found the article to be a one sided example of Twitter - the side writers at VF made a mockery of - pointing out the trite facets of social media, and that these ladies (paraphrasing) "aren't making money, but they are famous" part. Ronald's comment about the article being "smarmy" is spot on, as a woman on Twitter, I would have been perturbed. @amberportercox

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