Go, West – Unwanted Fame in the Social Media World

The potential (and potential drawbacks) of social networking giant Twitter’s ability to create, enhance or relaunch the global public profile of virtually anyone, including the man in the street, has been emphasised this week after teenager Steven Holmes from Coventry was unexpectedly “followed” by rapper Kanye West.

West, known for his self-promotion and considerable ego, has become known almost as much for online commentary as his music, creating a profile on Twitter in July and already attracting over 500,000 followers. His comments have ranged from the amusing to the downright bizarre, including: “Fur pillows are actually hard to sleep on”, “I used to clean my diamonds with toothpaste when I was about 19”, “I love me” and “I love everybody… only thing I don’t like is taxes.. me and taxes gone fight”.

In fact, when West began following Holmes on Saturday 1st August, his reply to Holmes’ understandably awestruck first “tweet” of “Holy *** bro, thx for following” was: “You are the chosen one dun dun dun dun”.

Since then, however, having seen his number of Twitter followers increase from 60 to almost 4,000 and after fielding interview requests, messages asking him to pass on demo recordings to West and angry comments from the Rapper’s fans who felt that they should have been the “Chosen One”, Holmes has stated that not only does he no longer want the huge attention, he is not one of the biggest fans of West’s music, telling the Independent that “before this weekend I thought it would be cool to have a celebrity following me on Twitter but now I think it’s really not worth it.”

Whilst this is a fairly rare case of a Twitter user finding fame which they did not go looking for, it does raise a number of fundamental issues as to the nature of the microblogging site and privacy in the social media environment.

Web 2.0 and social media platforms give their users access to a global community, with a virtually unfiltered channel to broadcast opinion, distribute content (either belonging to the user or to third parties in the case of illegal filesharing) or make friends without any kind of social or geographical restriction.

The downside, of course, is that once you are a participant in a social network, keeping an eye on with whom and how you interact is crucial. Facebook has seen its fair share of problems relating to privacy over the past few years and whilst safeguards are in place to ensure compliance with both international privacy and data protection laws as well as the site’s own privacy policy, users should review their own privacy settings and take action quickly if they are the subject of any unwanted attention. In some cases, that unwanted attention can be dealt with via criminal sanctions such as those found in the Protection From Harassment Act  1997 or the Public Order Act 1986. It’s unlikely, however, that Kanye West would fit the profile of a “Cyberstalker”.

The moral of the story is: Privacy in the social media world is an evolving landscape, and what starts out as harmless fun can soon turn sour. If it does, there is plenty you can do about it under the general law and the privacy policies of the sites in question. Any businesses operating in the social media environment also need to remember their responsibilities to their users and take action quickly when problems arise.

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