Before Shaq was too legit for ghost tweets, the Admiral was 2 Legit 2 Quit.

It’s somehow fitting that I agree with Gawker, which I loathe for its pure persona prurience, in the debate over twitter-ghosts. In Valleywag, Owen Thomas says:

That’s the grand irony of Twitter: Even the real people on the service are fake. They are their own simulacra. No one actually lives their life 140 characters at a time. What we do is turn ourselves into works of fiction. Who’s real? Who’s not? Who cares?

Guy Kawasaki says in an interview: “Why does it matter who is doing the tweeting? Either the content is good or not good. I’d rather follow a smart intern tweeting for a CEO than an dumb CEO tweeting for himself or herself.”

Allison Fine, along with a kind nod to me, makes a good point about the reciprocity of trust in her post on this:

The social network is this infrastructure of connections between people, that the glue is the social capital which is the value of those connections. And the value is based on mutual trust and reciprocity. I trust that you are who you say you are and if I don’t know you on land, I take a leap of faith that you can be trusted with my friendship, skills and network. The reciprocity is that what I put into the network, I expect that at some point in time, you will do the same, it isn’t a one-sided relationships.

And Caroline McCarthy puts it nicely when she says that if twitter is about putting your real face forward, “ghostwriting just doesn’t seem like it’s playing by the rules.”

Social mediavangelists like Allison and Caroline (among whom I count myself more than half the time) are right to say that authenticity and low-to-no-mediation are what make twitter so vibrant, and at best revolutionary. Social media levels hierarchies–like Johnny Mercer says in “Hooray for Hollywood,” any barmaid can be a star maid. It also grants access, as with the House GOP tweepot tempest “revolt” over drilling, or erstwhile tweeple’s county executive Ron Sims of Seattle.

But Jason Pontin of MIT’s Technology Review captures the self-simulacra paradox perfectly in his comments to Valleywag:  

I do not thrill to continuous attention and I value my privacy. Thus, the Jason Pontin who occupies the social space is a constructed persona, designed to be unchallengingly personable, humorous, and thoughtful. I am none of those things very often. The preoccupations of that Jason Pontin are professional: he thinks about emerging technologies all the time. And I never broadcast the substance of my inner life, because I know it would become insubstantial the moment I did.

While a firsthand (no pun intended) tweet is of course more legit than a ghost’s, and while the hope that fuels the social media contract would break down if we all hired virtual Cyranos to make us sound twittier, it’s not true to life–RL or URL–to say that when we tweet “as ourselves” we’re really being ourselves. Like your Facebook profile or your professional headshot, it’s what Jason calls (with very slight redundancy) a “constructed persona.”

The tools of self-presentation chase the tools of transparency not because corruption fears the light (though it does) nor because most of us crave invisibility or invulnerability (though we so often do), but because the difference between the expressed self and the constructed self is always at best a blur.

If Nixon’s media team had known to ask for an icebox-cold debate stage, Kennedy might not have been president. If FDR’s fireside chats had focused on his personal life, it might have helped the rights of the disabled (or the future divorce rate), but it probably wouldn’t have had the same impact on wartime morale. Asking famous people to be more real is a good thing to ask for, but the phrase “famous person” is actually sort of an oxymoron.

A famous person is not simply the person, but also the fame and its attendant constructed personae. In an age where we can all be a little famous online, our online personae are, to a greater and lesser degree, mediated.

borrowed from
Digioscuro on Flickr

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