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US:Celbrity twits just can't get enough of microblogging site

By Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thu Aug 20 03:20:08 EST 2009

PASADENA, California SHNS - When Paula Abdul wanted to make a splash, she didn't call a press conference or give an interview. She used Twitter, the same social-media site where she once told her fans, "Craving some ice cream ... Mmmm."

Insipid as some posts to Twitter - called "tweets" - may be, the site is a well-used communications tool by public figures. Abdul used Twitter to announce in multiple tweets - each one limited to 140 characters - that, "With sadness in my heart, I've decided not to return to (American Idol)."

Celebrities continue to tweet away, even as some media corporations seek to limit how much their employees participate in social-media sites. Disney-owned ESPN, for example, sent guidelines to its employees instructing them to get permission from a supervisor before engaging in any form of social-networking and to bear in mind they are representing ESPN.

Derek Hough, one of the dancers on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, announced that he and girlfriend Shannon Elizabeth had broken up, with each of them posting the news to Twitter. Comedian Kathy Griffin used the site to declare to her 156,000 Twitter followers, "There's a new love in my life ..." The tweet linked to a photo of Griffin arm-in-arm with Levi Johnston, father of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's grandson.

"It's easy and it's only 140 characters, which I think is essential when dealing with stupid celebrities," Griffin said of Twitter at an NBC-Universal party. "You should not give them pages and pages of a blog. You should limit them."

Griffin said she does her own tweeting, but some celebs pass that work along to their assistants, who serve as ghost twitterers. Other celebs don't tweet at all, but imposters do it for them.

Matt Damon, Paul Walker and Dennis Hopper all said earlier this month that they don't use Twitter, but imposters have set up accounts in their names, complete with the stars' photos.

To prevent impersonation of famous figures, Twitter is experimenting with a Verified Account feature that uses a white check mark inside a blue emblem atop the person's profile. The absence of the badge does not mean an account is fake.

"I'm not on any of those," Damon said. "I'm actually so busy and I'm out of touch with a lot of people I want to be in touch with. My wife did it recently and she was so inundated she kind of ran out of time."

Hopper said it was weird to think about someone impersonating him online.

"I don't know that much about the internet," he said. "I've tried to avoid it. Jack (Nicholson) and I decided a long time ago that since we couldn't type, we might as well stop so we didn't really go on with it."

Athletes have also started using Twitter to the extent that some NFL teams, concerned about what might be expressed in a tweet, have set guidelines or even asked players not to participate.

Twitter isn't just an outlet for actors, athletes and other public figures. Fictional characters have taken to it, too.

Actor Nathan Fillion, star of ABC's Castle, offers witty tweets ("Dear Diary, I hope we win an Emmy. I would have it made into a necklace and wear it until it pulled out my back"), and so does his alter ego, mystery novelist Richard Castle. ABC set up a Twitter account for the character (as WriteRCastle) as a way to promote the series and an upcoming book "authored" by Castle. Already, the fictional character has 7,900 followers.

Kassia Krozser, editor/owner of the web site Booksquare.com, said each social-media site has its own character. Facebook is a place to connect with people you already know, but Twitter is more akin to a cocktail party with conversations you eavesdrop on.

Krozser said Twitter allows celebrities to engage in conversation with fans while marketing - but it can't be just about the hard sell.

"If you're out there talking to (a lot of fans), you're building your name," she said.

The celebrities-on-Twitter trend picked up steam earlier this year when Ashton Kutcher raced CNN to see which one could be the first to garner 1 million "followers" on their accounts. Kutcher won and has now passed the 3 million followers mark.

"I originally got on to follow five people in the tech industry I was interested in," Kutcher said. April's race-to-one-million against CNN was a way to garner media attention for the charity Malaria No More and World Malaria Day.

"Anytime someone takes on the media, it becomes a media story because the media loves to write about the media," Kutcher said.

Actor David Blue, a recurring guest star on Ugly Betty who's a lead on Stargate Universe, said he joined Twitter a year ago to stay in touch with fans.

"It allows you to dispel rumours that might be out there and gives (fans) a true peek at what's going on without having to worry about it having to get filtered through anyone else's mouth," Blue said. "It's also dangerous because of that."

And that's the rub: for celebrities or politicians, Twitter tweets or Facebook status updates cut out the middleman - those pesky journalists - but it can also be a personal publicist's nightmare if a client tweets something controversial.