Is a golden age of celebrity overshare coming to an end?
Ashton Kutcher — Hollywood’s most ardent advocate for living out loud via social media — announced Thursday he’s handing his Twitter account over to a team of flacks.
For almost every day for nearly three years, the actor chatted directly with fans on the site — taking their feedback on his sitcom (“@chrisantoniou93 give it another go tonight and let me know what you think”) and promoting charities (“micro-financing to help trafficking victims. any support is appreciated”). He riffed on sporting events and shared bikini shots of wife Demi Moore.
But on Wednesday he set off a firestorm with a blithe defense of Penn State coach Joe Paterno (“How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass”). Sorry, he tweeted later: “Didn’t have full story,” i.e., wasn’t aware of the child sexual abuse scandal behind the firing. On his blog the next day, he bemoaned the fact that tweets “become news” and “volatile fodder for critics” and vowed to mend his ways. From now on, he wrote, his media team will “ensure the quality of its content.”
He's hardly the first VIP to get in trouble on Twitter. Meghan McCain accidentally revealed she was in Vegas playing hooky from a speech she’d canceled at the last minute. Gilbert Arenas was fined by the NBA for offensive tweets, Courtney Love sued by a woman she’d trashed on Twitter. And perhaps you've heard of former Rep. Anthony Weiner? Others, too, have backed away after initially embracing the medium. (Whither @kanyewest? Only eight tweets in the last eight months.)
But Kutcher was a celebrity Twitter pioneer. When he raced CNN to see who could get a million followers first (he now has 8 million), he boosted the medium as well as his own persona.
“It goes back to the old notion that there’s a wall between average people and celebrities,” says Lance Ulanoff, editor of the tech blog Mashable. “Twitter broke that down. . . I was amazed by the connections I made” with VIPs he’d otherwise never meet. Ulanoff wrote Thursday that he thinks Kutcher is making a mistake. “I hope it isn't the start of a trend,” he told us. “Will other celebrities say, ‘This is done, I’m going back to publicists’?”
Certainly, a lot of accounts are already handled by flacks. But Whitney Jefferson, who monitors celeb tweets for Jezebel.com, says you can tell if a star does their own tweeting by the misspellings and boozy after-hours vibe. “It’s real, and I love it.”
She predicts Kutcher’s following will drop if fans sense that’s not him at the keyboard.
“Otherwise you'd just sign up for the Ashton Kutcher newsletter,” she said. “There’s something special about it coming from him. It’s one of those things that made me like him more.”