Miley Cyrus is no stranger to Twitter controversies. The 20 year-old starlet infamously deleted her Twitter account a few years ago, but not before she made a rap song about it on her YouTube channel. She has been criticized for her vague subtweets, overexposing Twitpics, and anti-Christian sentiments. Since joining Twitter again in April of last year (under the Twitter account for her Gypsy Heart Tour), Cyrus has since amassed over 9.7 million fans and uses the microblogging site as the main connection to her fans.
Cyrus does have a strong social media presence on other sites too. Her Facebook does not run any additional or exclusive content and sources instead from her Twitter, but it has over 21.6 million likes. Her YouTube videos have also been widely criticized, with her “Miley and Mandy Show!!!!” channel having over 544,000 subscribers and 160,304,661 video views, although she hasn’t uploaded a new video in over two years. Cyrus also recently joined a brand-new social media site called Pheed, which essentially aggregates content from a celebrity’s multiple social media platforms into one easily navigational profile. The site also gives users the option to monetize their content, but so-far Cyrus only has 23,255 subscribers on the site.
After analyzing Cyrus’ presence across all social media platforms, one can theorize that her presentation of self and identity online fits into the authenticity category as described by Hugo Liu in “Social Media Network Profiles as Taste Performances”. Liu describes an authentic profile as “relaxed” and displays “slight imperfection” (264). Cyrus’ profile on Twitter does project “a relaxed feeling” where her lists of interests “were not overly verbose or coherent” and she often “breaks from form or convention” (264). Her use of colloquial expressions, slang, curse words, emoticons, and extremely personal thoughts separates her account from the prestige profiles of her celebrity peers, and it often gets her in tabloid trouble. Cyrus’ profile is often moderately coherent, but not nearly as coherent as if a manager wrote it.
Cyrus often employs a tactic known as “subtweeting”, where she writes intentionally vague or cryptic thoughts without context. If a normal person were o do this, it would cause no shockwaves. However, since Cyrus’ Tweets are taken as a direct insight into the ongoings of her glamorous life, these subtweets are often a trigger for tabloid gossip and concerned or confused fans. It’s as if Cyrus has no care in the world for what audience might be reading her thoughts.
In Zizi Papacharissi’s article “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter”, she notes that people Tweet “to fulfill needs for expression and social integration, and to relate to others in general. Frequent Twitter users report gratifying a need for connection, fulfilled by posting tweets and @replies, and retweeting others’ public posts” (1993). She continues to say that these performances of the self via Twitter are “polysemic, because they must make sense to a variety of audiences without sacrificing narrative coherence. Performing the self is simultaneously a way of expressing the self and managing its complex webs of relations” (1993). Cyrus’ Tweets, then, act as both a means of creative output and an outlet for her to relate to her wide fan base. However, in an effort to be “authentic” and Tweet thoughts that are deeply personal, she creates the negative effect of alienating her audience because they fail to understand her narrative incoherence. And since Cyrus uses Twitter as the main voice that carries across all her other social media platforms, her cryptic subtweets make their way onto her Facebook, where they have even less context than on Twitter.
Papacharissi explains Cyrus’ motive for subtweeting: “When communicating with networked audiences, Twitter users frequently craft polysemic messages, encoded with meanings that are decoded differently by each potential audience member. One such strategy for polysemy is social steganography, or the practice of hiding in plain sight…this strategy can help individuals balance expectations for authenticity with conflicting needs for privacy, publicity, and sociality” (1994). Tweeting quotes about lacking love and passion right after her engagement prompted many of her fans and gossip sites alike to question whether there was trouble in paradise. This forced Cyrus to clear up any confusion by saying that there is no trouble, only her thoughts. While this does seem authentic, one might wonder if she Tweets these cryptic messages simply for attention or to catch a follower’s attention that is in-the-know.
While Cyrus clearly tries to maintain an authentic profile, she might break some of the conventions of Twitter authenticity according to Alice E. Marwick and danah boyd in their article “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience”. Marwick and boyd say that authenticity is “a social construct and it is unlikely that anyone could tweet context-independently with no concern with audience, given our understanding of audience influence on self-presentation” (119). When discussing the concept of a micro-celebrity, the authors argue that although amassing followers and capturing attention is a status symbol, spamming for more followers is often seem as inauthentic on Twitter.
Cyrus often retweets her multiple fan pages that push for her to reach milestone follower marks, the next being 10 million. It can also seem inauthentic to constantly self-promote, although that might be different for actual celebrities. I would argue that the most inauthentic thing Cyrus has ever done on social media is her rap song about leaving Twitter. In the tune uploaded to her “Miley and Mandy Show!!!!” YouTube account, Cyrus says she left Twitter to keep her private life private and to start making life more about people and less about social media. Yet, Cyrus is back on Twitter, tweeting personal information, controversial selfies, and cryptic subtweets. For someone that tries to use social media to battle her inauthentic persona in the mass media, Cyrus’ social media technique often backfires and adds more fuel to the gossip fire.