Originally published in the Huffington Post, May 25 2011
Time, the Associated Press and Perez Hilton, all covered the same news this week -- Paris Hilton's curious Twitter feed. On the night of August 27, Paris Hilton was arrested in Las Vegas for possession of cocaine. Then nearly immediately after being released from custody, her Twitterfeed was updated with this:
"In bed watching Family Guy. Love this show.! So hilarious! Stewie is my favorite love his accent." And then a few minutes later, "Going to bed. Sweet dreams everyone. Xoxo Paris :)."
The widespread discussion about the suspected illegitimacy of these tweets highlights a surprising naïveté. People apparently expect celebrity Twitter feeds to be authentic. They like to imagine, and they do imagine, that they are following a celebrity's life as it happens. A new Tweet pops up on their screens just as the celebrity is putting their phone down in an Escalade with tinted windows. But that's an unrealistic, albeit rather charming, expectation.
A celebrity Twitter feed is the equivalent of a reality TV program. The content seems real, but it's actually shaped by savvy editors, public relations executives and professional writers. It's similar to magazines like Star, reality shows like The Celebrity Apprentice and Celebrity Rehab, and entertainment news. The content provides fans with voyeuristic satisfaction, but little verity. In real reality, as opposed to reality TV reality, all social media venues including personal websites and Facebook fan pages are publishing platforms. And these outlets must all be programmed communications, just like any other medium.
The formula for success of celeb-reality show and a tabloid magazine is already well-defined. But the Paris Hilton Twitter-feed gaffe shows that the formula for celeb-Twitter success still needs refining.
My colleague Tessa Barrera, a social media guru, identified the rules of the road for ghost twitterers at Notes on Digital.