Boy did I open a can of worms for my final blog post. This weeks topic was a guest lecture by Dr Christopher Moore, who I have for my DIGC335 class. We were to examine celebrity practice on Twitter, the micro-celebrity as a concept, as well as analyse the impact and activities of non-human Twitter users, such as bots and AIs.
In the left corner, we have Microsoft’s short-lived AI Tay. In the right corner, we have Donald Trump.
I enlisted the help of two of my friends and my partner (respectively) – Stephen, Janessa, and Orien. Together we took part in a 40 minute podcast (way longer than the 5 minutes I was hoping for) with a series of questions. It was a two parter, firstly looking at our own use of Twitter, and secondly, the use of celebrities and the non-human, and looking at the impact this may have for the future. Feel free to click below to listen if you’d like 40 minutes of background noise.
For your convenience, I will unpack the conversation that we had and summarise some of the main points that followed the questions that were asked.
Analyising your own Online Persona:
What does twitter mean to you?
There seem to be a few reasons twitter is used – as a glorified news outlet, to analyse trends, as a microblogging platform, to communicate and socialise – and of course, to shitpost.
Your own twitter activity:
We found that none of us actually have any decent interactions on Twitter – Orien doesn’t even have an account. We concluded that none of us have really taken the platform seriously. Looking at our ‘impressions’ we noticed that none of us were really being noticed.
We also discovered what an impression actually was.
“In Union Metrics Twitter reporting, we define reach as the total number of estimated unique Twitter users that tweets about the search term were delivered to. Exposure is the total number of times tweets about the search term were delivered to Twitter streams, or the number of overall potential impressions generated.
When we say “impression”, we mean that a tweet has been delivered to the Twitter stream of a particular account. Not everyone who receives a tweet will read it, so you should consider this a measure of potential impressions. Both reach and impressions should be treated as directional metrics to give you an idea of the overall exposure the tracked term received. Use these metrics to get a sense of the size of your potential audience, and use engagement metrics like retweets, clicks and replies to gain a more complete understanding of your impact.”
We also talked about what we could change in our own Twitter activity, hypothetically. Popularity was a common preference – to do so, we’d need to tweet more regularly, use appropriate hashtags, or hit the jackpot by befriending a celebrity and having them sack their legions of fans upon us for follows.
Valuing Twitter celebrities, as well as celebrities on Twitter:
When discussing what makes a celebrity popular on Twitter, we reached a rather unanimous conclusion – that the value of a celebrity on Twitter lies within humanising these people who’s lifestyles seem so foreign to our own. We’ve been given a platform to communicate with them, to reach out to them, and perhaps even be noticed by them as well. On the flip side – it’s also easier to evaluate a celebrities worth by observing their true colours; we can quickly discern whether or not a celebrity is genuine – or genuinely a twat.
Damaging or helpful effects of mini celebrities:
We quickly discovered that Twitter can be a direct influence on making or breaking a person’s career, or even life – whether they were famous or not. Without these platforms, no one would know that Jaden Smith was a nutcase, for example.
However there have been instances of celebrities destroying their careers from things they’ve said on Twitter. Here is a whole list of them. There are also examples of celebrities weighing in on a debate with another person or celebrity, and either accidentally or intentionally sending their fans to rabidly attack the other party, as well as their supporters – which we could even put down to cult-like behaviour of people worshipping their ‘Twitter God’.
It could be argued that this isn’t necessarily a bad outcome, however – with Orien saying that it’s good that we have a way of discovering who these people really are, and taking away their fame as a platform for their controversial and potentially harmful or malicious opinions.
However, praise was also allocated to the platform for its potential for good: it can be a source for unbiased facts or alternative views, or for setting hashtags to go viral for the greater good, and to promote some generally wholesome content.
Looking at the non-human:
Unfortunately, we didn’t have many non-human instances of twitter accounts to name off the top of our heads. I made mention of a few bot accounts that I have following me, which actively search for #stream #streaming and #twitch hashtags in my tweets, to re-tweet to people following those accounts, in order to give my stream exposure a boost.
Innocently, there are other bot accounts that monitor RSS feeds to deliver news or weather updates.
The other account that could now be considered synonymous with Twitter AIs is Microsoft’s Tay – for those not in the know, this will catch you up quite quickly.
In looking at the general maliciousness that we discovered in humans interacting with Tay, we quickly came to the conclusion that humans are generally shitty, and would not hesitate to use AI in other malicious forms – such as bullying or online harassment. For example, setting up a series of Twitter bots to target someone online and spam them with horrible images and links. Bots and AIs are a tool – and it is up to the person to decide what they do with it.
A hypothetical that was considered was the use of AI and bots for the future, particularly on Twitter. We mused at the concept of a completely unbiased source of news from bots that only analyse the facts, with no journalistic spin. Unfortunately, that seems to be way off in the future.