In a recent Twitter chat session, Ben Affleck was asked what he would be doing if he had never pursued directing. Affleck casually responded “I’d be writing twitter feeds for celebrities.” At first, I was thoroughly impressed; Ben Affleck – teenage heartthrob, bromantic interest of the one and only Matt Damon, human rights activist, film maker, and aspiring social media guru?! Of course, though, I was disappointed to discover that Benjamin had in fact only been tweeting himself for the past few months – and went back to weeding through his twitter feed.
One cool thing I’ve noticed is that celebrities tweet in as many varying ways as the rest of us regular folk do. (I know, this is like that Us Weekly Magazine column, “Stars Are Just Like Us!”). While many, unfortunately, do not have Twitter profiles at all – (am I really the only one who wants to know what’s on Johnny Depp’s mind??) – others, such as British pop star MIKA, use their accounts to verify their authenticity. Hugo Liu, in his paper on “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances,” identifies four main types of taste statements that could be made on a social media profile, one of which is authenticity. Authenticity taste statements, according to Liu, are “associated with a relaxed style and the display of slight imperfection.” MIKA performs authenticity statements through a laidback writing style (using slang and abbreviations), in addition to displaying his amateur giddiness at his current status; he also profusely and repeatedly thanks his fans, and makes cute cultural references. Other celebrities, such as Patrick Dempsey, perform authenticity statements through devoting their online presence to external, non-Hollywood related interests (Dempsey tweets almost exclusively about his Formula 1 racing). Television personality Ellen DeGeneres takes a different approach. Ellen’s tweets are formulated to give you a miniaturized (140-words-small!) experience of The Ellen Show. This is a performance of prestige statements, but also works with Weber and Mitchell’s idea of convergence. Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell, in their article on “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities: Young People and New Media Technologies,” refer to Henry Jenkins’s discussion on convergence, in which “multiple media systems coexist and… media content flows fluidly across them.” (Mitchell and Weber, 41). Weber and Mitchell would say that Ellen is using her Twitter profile to “incorporate and merge old and new elements of experience” by using her short show-inspired or show-related tweets to allow her once passive audience to become interactive (through reply, retweet, favorite, etc.).
So what is Ben Affleck’s goal with his Twitter account, based on my understanding of social media identity performances? Unclear. At first his profile seemed really promising, with tweets about his organization, the Eastern Congo Initiative. While his entrance onto the Twitter scene could have been seen as purely publicity-oriented for his new movie, Argo, his initial tweets did a bit to preemptively dispel such talk. His first three tweets were about the Eastern Congo Initiative, and the activist work he does.
Alice Marwick and danah boyd, in their article “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience,” discuss tweeting habits in terms of audience. For the most part, Affleck’s imagined audience consists of potential consumers of Argo, so he tweets enthusiastically about his movie – promotional materials, retweets of praise, and subtle self-referential humor about his hand in the movie. However, his actual audience seems to consist mostly of fans and individuals who have already seen his movie, who tweet praise and questions about the film. While this could eventually create a potential situation in which Affleck’s tweets get stale and his followers stop connecting, Affleck seems to have this under control, by integrating other subjects in his tweets.
Other favorite subjects are East Congo and global human rights awareness, as well as quite a bit of personal self-promotion. He does this by displaying his high connections, with tweets to other celebrities such as Justin Timberlake, Anderson Cooper, Sarah Silverman, John McCain, and Rob Gronkowski.
Finally, Ben Affleck also seems to have quit while he was ahead. Rather than letting his tweets about Argo fade off while focusing on other subjects, Affleck seems to have cut all tweets entirely, ending his Twitter career at 4 months – almost to the day. His last tweet was almost two weeks ago – on October 14 – after weeks of very consistent tweeting. As it turns out, Affleck seems to have been only using his Twitter account to promote Argo, but who knows? Maybe we’ll find out next week that he’s been in Africa for the past few weeks and therefore unable to tweet regularly. Unless that is the case, though, I must say that my conclusion has been as follows: celebrities have little to tweet about, due to concerns about keeping their audience interested and engaged, or perhaps due to the desire to keep their personal lives personal. That being said, when they run out of interesting subjects (like their current project, their external hobbies, or recaps from their show), they just stop tweeting; always leave us wanting more.