“Oprah, of course … without a doubt,” she said.
And for a while I sat in amused silence. In mild shock. And processed this. I had given my friend two options : Oprah or the school girl from Afghanistan maimed with acid for wanting an education. “Whose daily musings would you be most interested in?” I asked. Oprah? This made no sense to me. Oprah? After all, what value and insight could a celebratory, who is bound to see a microblogging service like Twitter as a free PR, image-bolstering channel, add? That’s what I was trying to understand. And while may friend explained, nothing she said was compelling enough to help me reach that level of tinsel-town enlightenment where Oprah has a God-like glow and I decide to follow her on Twitter.
But just because I wasn’t budging that doesn’t mean the rest of the twitosphere felt the same. After only a day on Twitter Oprah has a following of 248,630 people and counting. And in true Oprah style her first tweet was sent live on her TV show with the help of another Twitter celebratory whose name has been dominating the Twitosphere: Ashton Kutcher.
See Kutcher was the winner of the recent Twitter race to one million Twitter followers which had been raging between him and the news organisation CNN. As part of this publicity stunt, Kutcher promised to donate 10 000 mosquito nets to a charity for World Malaria day if he won and 1000 if he lost. Not a bad deal. But it doesn’t stop there; Oprah and CNN now also plan to donate to this cause. So what are all the Twitter veterans and those few dissenters moaning about?
Kutcher is now the King of Twitter. And Oprah is fast become the queen. It didn’t take long for these celebrities to not only become the most popular Twitter users but to dominate conversation in the twitosphere. And that’s where part of the problem comes in. I think some veteran Twits may have bruised egos for these celebrities didn’t have to work too hard for their Twitter success. But they miss the point. Since these celebrities made their presence known on Twitter that has come to dominate many tweets. Twitter was meant to be a space free and separate from mainstream media. Instead now the twitosphere has become a space for more celebrity worship and gossip to thrive. How exciting.
Kutcher tried to make his Twitter victory seem like a victory of the individual against mainstream media. He talked about democratisation of media and how instrumental Twitter is in this process. Nice try Kutcher but you can’t play that card. This is Ashton Kutcher and Oprah we’re talking about after all. No average Joe, no matter how interesting, could rival their fan bases. Also Ashton had a well-established offline fan following and the help of 1,133 digital billboards. You can’t beat that!
Twitter was meant to be an open space where people built a reputation based on the quality if their tweets. Now the rules have changed. And we can thank Oprah and Ashton for that. It’s now a type of popularity contest where everyone hopes to be retweeted by a celebrity. Because if that happens you can lie back and know you’ve made it. Ignore content. And quality. Ignore those voices that Twitter was meant to help bring to the fore. This is now a playground for the big kids and unless you are one of them you have very little chance of influencing the news agenda.
Yes anyone can set up a Twitter account. Tweet. And share their daily life, thoughts and experiences with the world. But this isn’t true citizen media. The same rules still apply. The few influencing the many. That’s how mainstream media works, remember? So go ahead … tweet away. Maybe someone somewhere will care. But for now, brace yourself for many retweets as these celebrities make themselves at home.