Twitter: you’ve changed. At least that’s what Ashton Kutcher, the first celebrity to reach 1 million followers on Twitter, seems to think after announcing that he is taking a break from the service. As my Post colleague Jen Chaney noted, he made the decision after tweeting a message defending Penn State coach Joe Paterno, unaware that the legendary coach was fired in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal.
According to a post on Kutcher’s personal blog, he believed that Paterno had been fired because of his age. He later deleted the message and apologized for the tweet, explaining that he didn’t know the circumstances of Paterno’s dismissal. Kutcher and wife Demi Moore, Chaney notes, founded the DNA Foundation, which works to end child sex slavery — making the gaffe particularly noticeable.
But Kutcher then announced that he would stop sending personal messages to his now 8 million followers and turn management of the account over to his publicity team at Katalyst Media. Kutcher has been a prolific tweeter and investor in technology companies, including his own branded Twitter client.
Twitter gaffes can have serious implications for celebrities (for examples, look up “Gilbert Gottfried Japan” or “Kenneth Cole Cairo”) but several of Kutcher’s fans have said that he made a simple mistake. Most were satisfied that he owned up to the mistake and apologized for it. But Kutcher, clearly uncomfortable with the way that Twitter has evolved since he raced CNN for the title of the first to reach 1 million followers, has decided to turn the account over to his handlers.
“[Twitter] has grown into a mass publishing platform, where ones [sic] tweets quickly become news that is broadcasted around the world and misinformation become volatile fodder for critics,” he wrote.
Kutcher’s decision, however has turned out to be much more controversial than his misguided tweet. The idea that he would turn his account over to his publicity team seemed to be anathema to his many followers, who were among the first to embrace the way that the service lets fans interact directly with celebrities. So while Twitter has emerged as a platform for personal branding as well as conversation, the strength of the service is that it puts users in direct contact with the celebrities and brands they like. Kutcher’s decision undermines that relationship.
“I am not unfollowing [Kutcher] because of his uninformed Penn St. comment,” wrote one Twitter user. “I’m unfollowing him because he is no longer tweeting for himself.”
Celebrities have recently come under fire for tweeting — but not disclosing — paid endorsement messages made on the social networking site. As the Associated Press reported, some Twitter users think that celebrities shouldn’t use their clout on Twitter to hawk products. Those distinctions become even blurrier when a media company is handling the “personal” messages.
What do you think? Should celebrities handle their own Twitter accounts? Or is Kutcher making a wise move by pulling himself out of the equation?