Goodbye seems to be the hardest tweet for celebrities

Almost since coming to prominence, celebs have been quitting — and returning to — Twitter, says Jack Shafer.

Goodbye seems to be the hardest tweet for celebrities

ALMOST as much as celebrities love to tweet, they love to quit Twitter. And as much as they love to quit Twitter, they love to return to the social networking service.

If the search facility Nexis can be trusted, the first high-profile Twitter quitter was Miley Cyrus, who very publicly ditched the service in October 2009 at the behest of her boyfriend, actor Liam Hemsworth. Cyrus delineated her reasons for terminating her account in a rap video she uploaded, explaining to her 1.1m followers that she wanted to keep her “private life private”.

Proving that returning to Twitter is as easy as quitting, Cyrus started tweeting again in April 2011 and remains a fervent user, even though she is again threatening to take a hiatus.

Other celebrities to quit and restart include Ricky Gervais, who left after calling Twitter “pointless” in January 2010. He rejoined in September 2011.

Other Twitter quitter yo-yos include John Mayer, serial quitter Alec Baldwin, Minnie Driver, Chris Brown, Sylvester Stallone, Nick Offerman, Charlie Sheen, baseball player Chris Davis, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Nicki Minaj, and William Shatner.

Some celebrities bail out because they feel overexposed (Cyrus). Others leave after being trolled by mean users (Driver, Hewitt, and Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda), framing their retreats as protests against bad players.

Still others, such as CeeLo Green this month, cancel after posting something controversial, perhaps in hopes that their swift exit from the scene of the word-crime will perform damage-control magic. With the past as our guide, Green will soon return, after which he’ll tweet something that he will come to regret, quit once more, then rejoin, again and again.

Of course, celebrities aren’t the only users who quit Twitter. According to a Reuters/Ipsos survey from last year, 36% of Twitter users polled had left the service and 7% had shuttered their account.

Hedge-fund manager Doug Kass said goodbye in June 2013 (“too many haters”) and returned about four months later. Earlier this month, market wizard Clifford Asness announced his exit, but he continues to tweet anyway.

Journalists have been known to quit, but often the departure is a stunt — a week or a month of temporary Twitter exile to clear their heads before returning and usually writing a piece about how they’ve now learned to manage their habit.

Commentary editor John Podhoretz, a devoted user of Twitter and an experienced quitter, offers some wisdom on how the service’s positives and negatives have driven him on and off again.

“For me, basically, Twitter is primarily a form of procrastination that I can tell myself is a kind of work — I’m communicating with my audience, helping my ‘brand’, promoting my cause,” Podhoretz tells me.

“Every now and then I find I’ve either taken something far too seriously, gone too far in the Don Rickles direction, or have touched a sociological/ideological nerve I had no intention of inflaming. When that happens, I am reminded that in fact Twitter is little more than an exercise in self-indulgence, and that it may do more harm than good, and I resolve to quit. But then I get emails from people complaining I’ve gone, and my vanity is tickled and assuaged, and I return, a little sadder and no wiser.”

Twitter tends to intoxicate users, celebrities and civilians alike, by delivering audiences for the low price of pounding something interesting, provocative, or even mundane into a keyboard. The desire to be heard over the human din is probably universal. Twitter potentially satisfies this lust by advancing — at least symbolically — every speaker to the head of the queue, giving him a microphone and loudspeaker, throwing open the curtains, and letting him sing.

Every new follower a Twitter user attracts and every retweet his account records provides him with a momentary ego boost and a status upgrade. The boost and upgrade can be adjusted from slow-drip to fast-drip by merely increasing one’s tweet-rate, which explains the service’s habit-forming ways and why some regard it as a time-sink. One would think that celebrities, toasted by fan clubs, pursued by autograph seekers, and hunted by paparazzi, wouldn’t need additional affirmation or another avenue for expression. Yet they do!

One downside of standing in the limelight, performers will tell you, is that once you’ve finished your act, the audience and critics weigh in. And they can be tough — tough enough to make you quit showbusiness faster than you would ever quit Twitter.

But at least conventional audiences observe norms, limiting their disapproval to booing or pans, and these insults fade in time and space. But not so inside Twitter World. If Twitter’s critics and malcontents have it in for you, you can’t block them fast enough to escape their jabs. They, after all, are chasing ego-boosting and status-upgrades, too, and your dying is their living.

If you think of Twitter as the new booze that is bad for you, I have no advice other than to put yourself on a diet and maintain a low profile. But what fun is lowering your profile? Twitter offers a lot — it’s a great news feed, it entertains — but it excels at profile-raising.

Twitter can break your heart only if you expect automatic affirmation instead of automatic disparagement from followers.

If you survived secondary school, you can survive Twitter. Just remember to wear some light armour.

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