Social media isn't anything new. Most of us old folks will remember the early days of the Internet: chat rooms, message boards, and personal web pages. From the very beginning, the Internet was a bastion of creativity, free expression, and a soap box for personal opinions--whether people were listening or not.
From those rough, early days, the Internet has been shaped into something of a digital society. Innovators have taken those nascent, raw ideas and crafted more structured, effective products. Personal web pages have become blogs. Chat rooms have been co-opted by IM services and mobile apps.
And the message board has by and large been turned into the social network- the greatest existential threat to mankind since bungee jumping.
I don't have to bore you with the bloated statistics about social networking, how millions of videos are uploaded to YouTube a second, how Facebook now houses over 1 billion active users, or how many clones and alternative social networks are out there. There is a social network for every kind of weirdo imaginable (yes, there is even a Brony social network).
The fact is, social networking is a force to be reckoned with. The 2016 election was mostly won via social networking, as Trump dodged tradition media's endless attacks to speak directly to voters. Who knows what social networks will look like in five years, ten years, or twenty? People complain about robots taking over our jobs. In a generation, everything might be done via social networking.
With this unprecedented new frontier available to us, it makes sense that people are going to take advantage of it for various, sometimes nefarious, purposes. There are people who have been able to leverage YouTube's massive saturation to create their own micro-media companies. Over $23 billion was spent in 2015 on advertising for social platforms. I'm sure your Facebook or Twitter timelines have more in common with TV commercials than updates from your friends.
Hollywood and celebrities have not missed out on this fad. While there are plenty older and more traditional actors and entertainers avoiding social media, you'll be hard pressed to find any up and coming comedian, actor, or singer that's not on some platform. Hell, even Will Smith's talentless kid has 5 million followers on Twitter (now that's a scary thought).
Clearly, celebrities and their managers view social media as a powerful new way to connect with their fans and prospective customers. After years of hard work getting their faces on magazine covers, late-night talk shows, and commercials, they now can advertise directly to people, without a middle man.
All for free.
This kind of access was unthinkable just a few years ago. So you can imagine how power has gone to their heads. Celebrities on Twitter and Facebook forget that their random thoughts and comments are being read by millions of people. They get retweeted, screenshotted, and reposted to many more people in mere seconds. It doesn't take a lot of work for a careless tweet to be spread throughout the country and the world.
So it's not surprising that something like this can happen.
Hollywood liberal Patton Oswalt is facing heavy criticism for a tweet denouncers claim called for terror attacks on Trump properties around the world.
Amid the initial backlash, Patton quickly deleted the message, shrugging it off as “horrified irony” that “landed wrong.”
However, that did very little to hide the #NeverTrump comedian’s actions, as screenshots of the tweet popped up just as soon as the original disappeared. (via Milo)
For those that missed it, Oswalt reposted a tweet that discussed the future POTUS's properties around the world and how they'd make good targets for terrorists. Oswalt added the comment: "Holy fuck. Come 'n' get it terrorists!"
Out of context, the post is disgusting, un-American, and quite possibly grounds for prosecution. Any American that would encourage terrorists to kill innocent people because the future president's name is on a building should be accused of treason (in the strictest sense of the word).
But anyone that knows Patton Oswalt's style of comedy would understand what he was going for. As an outspoken liberal and atheist, Oswalt uses his standup to express his opinions in a strong, unapologetic fashion. He was very outspoken against Trump during and after the election, so it stands to reason that he'd continue his bombastic criticism of the man, even making sarcastic comments about terrorism.
Does that mean Oswalt is encouraging terrorism? Of course not. Does it mean that he, much like every other celebrity, has yet to learn to use social media responsibly? You betcha.
The shocking ease of posting a tweet or Facebook message eliminates any kind of filter or accountability. Before you open your mouth to say something, you tend to consider how it will impact the listener. With them right in front of you, you might be careful with what you say, because you realize what effect it might have. But when you are entering text on your phone, disconnected to the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, even millions of potential viewers, you lose perspective.
Celebrities have never had as much power to speak to so many people. Interviews are short and often edited for content (plus they have handlers who coach them on what to say). Their creative work, such as books, movies, and music, are carefully crafted and polished by directors, producers, and editors. But a tweet has no such protection. A Facebook post goes live the instant they hit send. And before they can take it down, it can spread like wildfire.
It's unlikely that many celebrities will learn to use social media responsibly. These are rich people, grossly out of touch with reality. Many of them have been pampered and treated like royalty for so many years, the idea that they should temper their words is laughable.
All you have to do is look back on celebrity reactions from Election Night. While many chose to remain quiet, some of the more outspoken Hillary supporters took to Twitter to express outrage, suicidal comments, and even imply a violent overthrow of the government.
As if Katy Perry's ever used a gun.
Then there's stuff like this:
Hamilton actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who lectured Vice President-elect Mike Pence Friday from the Broadway stage about fears of bigotry under a Trump presidency, is under intense fire for sexually suggestive tweets some social media users have called racist and sexist. (via Breitbart).
Specifically, Dixon suggested that black men should take advantage of drunk white women on St Patrick's Day. Not the kind of thoughts a man who embraces equality and diversity should be posting online for all to see.
It's another example of how people in the spotlight don't understand the impact of their random thoughts and words. Without their managers, agents, and handlers telling them what to do, their true colors are exposed. And they're not always pretty.
Should celebrities be using social media? Sure. Social networks should be free for all to use. They are a vital way we can promote and preserve freedom of speech and expression, not just for Americans but all citizens of the world. But, as with all of us, celebrities need to understand the great power social media provides them. Up until now they have been playing fast and loose with it, disregarding the consequences of a badly worded tweet or an irresponsible post.
Unfortunately, in a space as public as social media, there is no room for mistakes.