If you’re at all interested in the activities of Joss Whedon, you’ve probably read that he quit Twitter over the weekend. Shock, horror! Also gone from social media this week: Jaden Smith, who deleted his body of pseudo-profound sentence-case tweets and made his Instagram private. The public always seems to react with surprise when a celebrity cracks and quits Twitter. How could they? But really, the question is: Why on earth would anybody want to be on Twitter in the first place?
If you’re, say, me, the answer is fairly obvious: I want people to read my work. I’ll probably tweet this article when it’s published. Maybe a few of the people who follow me (for reasons that remain, it has to be said, largely unclear) will read it! Maybe they’ll decide that it’s shareable content! It’s a fairly low-risk proposition: For the price of having to deal with the occasional heckler, I get some extra reach for my work, and maybe occasionally something will get RTed by someone with thousands or even millions of followers. Also, I get to prove how clever I am by making pithy 140-character remarks when the urge strikes me. Such writer! So pop culture!
If you’re the average person with a few followers, your motivation for being on Twitter is also pretty clear: It’s a good way to get news and feel somehow closer to the famous people you follow (keep tweeting at them, and maybe they’ll respond!), and your friends are probably on there too. Unless you do something enormously ill-considered or obnoxious, you never really have to think about the fact that everything you’re tweeting is public. If you do post something horrifying, the Internet hordes will be at your doorstep with terrifying speed. But for the most time, you’ll happily fly below the Twitter radar.
If you’re legitimately famous, though? Why in God’s name would you ever put yourself in a place where you’re constantly vulnerable to the aforementioned Internet hordes? Maybe your publicist says it’s a great idea, because you can Interact With Your Fans™ and prove you’re an all-around great person. But really, once you’re at a certain level of fame, you don’t need to do any such thing. There is the occasional celebrity who seems to genuinely enjoy meeting fans online, and good for them. If I were as famous as Joss Whedon, though, I wouldn’t touch Twitter with a bargepole. There’s nothing to gain, and everything to lose.
This is a conclusion that a lot of famous types seem to be coming to, sooner or later. Louis CK, for instance, canned his account earlier this year, for the simple reason that, “It didn’t make me feel good.” Indeed. It doesn’t really make anyone feel good! The combination of anonymity, a low character limit, and Twitter’s recently revised but still generally ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ policy on users being awful makes it pretty much the worst platform imaginable for any sort of meaningful dialogue. It’s a forum that seems to bring out the dregs of humanity — why would you stay if this happened when your wife died, or this happened when your father died? Wouldn’t you just say, well, fuck it?
As Flavorwire alumna Michelle Dean pointed out on, well, Twitter yesterday, “A benefit of being Joss Whedon should be: no need for Twitter.” Indeed. And it goes for anyone who has reached a level of fame and/or importance at which the size of their Twitter following doesn’t make any difference to their success or failure — a conclusion that an increasing number of people who are at such a level of fame and/or importance appear to be realizing. This should be worrisome for Twitter — after all, the fact that there are celebrities on Twitter is a key part of the platform’s popularity.
For some of us, Twitter is a necessary evil; for others, it’s something to scroll idly on your phone while you’re waiting for the subway. But if you’re Joss Whedon, or pretty much anyone else famous, it’s neither of those things. I look forward to being rich and famous enough to delete my Twitter account! In the meantime, you can follow me at @tom_hawking. Oh, go on. It’ll be great for both of us.