How Twitter turns fans to foes

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iol tonight 21 nov 11 MUSIC-AMA-AWARDS PIC19 REUTERS Nicki Minaj

A few weeks ago, rapper Nicki Minaj was involved in a Twitter war with fan site, NickiDaily.com, after it leaked songs from her newest album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. The fight led to her deleting her Twitter account, which had, at the time, more than 11 million followers. After calling out the website and subsequently blocking it, she tweeted: “Like seriously, there’s so much a person can take. Good f**king bye.” Her final tweet was: “And that’s exactly why I’m paying the Barbz (what she calls her fans) DUST right now! And deleting my twitter. SMDH – don’t cry 4 me Argentina.”

As a businesswoman, Nicki was well within her rights to want the fan site to plug the leak and delete the songs from the website, as many musicians lose millions every year because of piracy, illegal downloads and file sharing. But in a world saturated by social media, it was a case of cutting off her foot to spite her face. Nickidaily.com was one of her biggest fan sites (at one stage it had over 100 000 unique hits a week and 42 000 Twitter followers) – a place where fans could interact, read the latest news, get details about her album sales and access exclusive photos. When she confronted the site they turned on her, trashing her publicly and going from fan to enemy in just one tweet.

Nicki’s case brings to light the new way celebrities are using social networks, making themselves directly accessible to their fans, bridging the gap between star and admirer, lessening the mystery, one tweet at a time. In a tabloid-obsessed world it’s a smart PR move, but not one without consequences.

Ask any celebrity around the world if they have received hate tweets, and the answer would most probably be yes. If you read the tweets that are sent to pop singer, Rihanna, you may be surprised to find that a significant chunk of them are negative and offensive. For every message of love and support, there’s one mocking the star (or the fan). Locally, our celebrities have also had to deal with negative tweets sent to them.

In 2010, a Twitter user by the name of @Tranq15 started a trending topic to unfollow radio DJ TboTouch. Within seconds hundreds of people retweeted @Tranq15 and some even went ahead and unfollowed the Metro FM drive time host. Tbo Touch then deactivated his account. He only returned to the social network scene a year later. LIVE presenter and Yfm DJ, Bonang Matheba, also saw the need to delete her account after receiving unsavoury tweets from followers. She returned within two weeks with a considerably thicker skin and was more accommodating to fans. however, she ensures she never has to be subjected to rude tweets by blocking the people who tweet negative things about her.

“I really don’t focus on the negative things; they don’t add anything to my life, so it’s always best to ignore and block them,” she said in an interview.

Go back a decade, and if you wanted to declare your love for your favourite star (or hate, in some cases) you’d have to pay a small joining fee and send an actual letter in the mail to a celebrities fan club, that may or may not ever reach the star.

One of the stepping stones from snail-mail to Facebook was MySpace. Although a social network by definition, it never really provided a personal communication between fan and celeb. It was more about hearing from the band or singer themselves, as opposed to the record company’s PR agents. MySpace heralded the rise of personal websites which became the next big craze for big name celebrities in the late 90s – a time when the tabloid frenzy was about to kick into high gear, going from mindless entertainment to billion-dollar industry in a few short years.

Britney Spears was one of the first celebrities to maximise her online presence. Twelve years later, she is still one of the most popular people on the internet and is known to have one of the most thriving and vocal fan bases around. And in the late 2000s the big two –

Facebook and Twitter in particular, thanks to its immediacy – narrowed the distance between stars and fans even further.

Twitter exploded in 2009 when celebrities realised what a great platform it could be, thanks to the competition between CNN and Ashton Kutcher to see who would reach a million followers first. There are now more than 500 million Twitter users, with Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber leading the pack with more than 20 million followers each. Rihanna has 18 million followers on Twitter and has the most likes on her Facebook Page. (In fact, there’s a separate Billboard chart that ranks celebs according to their online presence).

But this is the internet we are talking about. The anonymity you’re able to maintain on the internet allows people to engage in hostile attacks of people who disagree with them.

In blogs and chatrooms, these commentators are called trolls, and they roam the net talking smack, trying to goad fans into defending their favourite stars, thus starting epic online wars.

That nastiness has, inevitably, spilled online. If you don’t like a celebrity and you think they are scum, you need nothing more than a working mobile phone to share your low opinion of the star to the star themselves.

“I’ve done it to Rihanna, Bonang and Minnie Dlamini,” one Twitter user, who wants to remain anonymous, said. “I was still new on Twitter and when I kept sending them messages and they never responded, I sent them mean tweets. Bonang and Minnie (Dlamini of The Wild) responded within minutes. Rihanna didn’t because she’s hardly online.” Another one said that they get irritated when celebrities only retweet the nice comments people say about them. “There’s so much that people tweet to our celebrities, sometimes it’s criticism of their TV show and how we think it can improve and instead of them getting into a conversation with us, they just ignore or block us,” he said. “I’ve been blocked by Bonang, Uyanda Mbuli and Nonhle Thema. I like them, but they can’t always be retweeting compliments that people tweet them, instead of addressing my concerns as a fan.”

Durban-born and Johannesburg-based DJ Roxxi, a few weeks ago paid a compliment to Nicki Minaj about her new album and actually got a response from Nicki herself. “I’m a Nicki fan and she inspires me musically, so her responding to my tweet, which I just randomly put out there without expecting a response, was both exciting and unexpected,” she said. Although she was happy that Nicki responded, she said that she doesn’t set out to get a response from a tweet. “I generally don’t tweet the star directly. Their mention in my tweet is usually in the form of a general statement. I feel that people should realise that stars don’t tend to deliberately ignore tweets. Sometimes they have so many mentions that it’s impossible for them to respond personally to each one.”

While fans may feel that their favourite celebrity is ignoring them, Roxxi says that fans need to understand that celebrities get hundreds, if not thousands, of mentions per a minute as well as a hectic daily schedule. “So if they don’t respond directly it’s not a bad thing. They should be grateful that the star does not drop off Twitter completely like Nicki Minaj’s latest stunt!”

But Twitter doesn’t work for every celebrity. It can also be an effective way to get a celebrity in major trouble. Chris Brown has been involved in more than three Twitter wars, each doing nothing to help his already damaged reputation. In a feud with former B2K singer, Raz B, Chris made fun of Raz B being a rape victim.

Courtney Love was the first person to ever be sued for her comments on Twitter and she recently caused controversy when she tweeted that Dave Grohl wanted to date her daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. Frances responded by denying the rumours, saying: “My mother should be banned from Twitter”.

Ashton Kutcher put his foot in it when his tweet about the sacking of Joe Paterno, failing to acknowledge that the coach had been sacked because he had allegedly covered up for a colleague who had been accused of sexually abusing young boys. Locally, Nonhle Thema’s tweets cost her a Dark ’n Lovely contract and it has also affected her TV career; her once popular reality show wasn’t renewed, and neither was her stint as a Vuzu presenter.

Even more damaging than attacking another celebrity, is when a star turns on their own fans. Rihanna has insulted some of her fans who have criticised her music, and DJ Cleo searches Twitter looking for mean things about him and his music, and he responds by hurling insults.

Perhaps it would be best if celebrities didn’t respond to the mean tweets they receive and should even hand over their accounts to their publicists, like Ashton did after the Paterno scandal. It’s a way of saying: “I screwed up, I’m sorry”.

With Nicki Minaj back on Twitter – she reactivated her account after two weeks – we only hope that she’ll be able to handle her account better.

While some say it was a publicity stunt, I believe that she just showed the world how fractured the celebrity/fan relationship can become. - Sunday Tribune

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