Ask Jeeves – Stephen Fry Quits Twitter (Again)

Although it seems like the majority of celebrities are now using Twitter to reach new audiences and find ways to reinvent themselves few have become as synonymous with tweeting as Stephen Fry, often referred to as one of the most popular and influential members of the “Twitterati”.

An early adopter of the micro-blogging service, Fry has become an icon in the Social Media world, lending his support to developing stories such as Paperchase’s very public dispute with the artist “Hidden Eloise” and the “Twitter Joke Trial”, which saw a Trainee Accountant from South Yorkshire prosecuted over a post in which he threatened to “blow (Robin Hood Airport) sky high.”

His comments have not, however, always been welcome. This morning he was forced to remove behind-the-scenes pictures taken on the set of the latest “Harry Potter” movie after uploading them last week , presumably under pressure from studio Warner Brothers. When asked the question by one of his followers, he would only reply – “Your words, not mine.”

In July last year, he admitted to illegally downloading the series finale of “House”, in which his former comedy partner Hugh Laurie stars, going on to say that he was “against cynical bootlegging but I work in a very mollycoddled, overpaid business”, and “Hope I’m not misunderstood. Such a pity if I get misrepresented as a ‘help yourself and be a pirate’ advocate …”.

It was the misinterpretation of his posts that led to what many thought would be the end of Fry’s love affair with Twitter in November last year when, after being referred to as “boring” in a post by Birmingham Tweeter “Brumplum” that Fry first threatened to give up using the website, sending the message that he ” may have to give up on Twitter. Too much aggression and unkindness around.”

Fry’s followers reacted quickly, with support and condemnation in pretty much equal measure. The romance was, however, back on again later that day, with this posting: “Arrived in LA feeling very foolish. Wasn’t the fault of the fellow who called me ‘boring’, BTW. A mood thing. Sunshine will help. So sorry.”

Now, however, Fry apparently really is ending his relationship with Twitter, after being apparently misquoted by the Observer stating that the only reason women slept with men is that “sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship”.

Fry’s response to the bemused and highly critical reaction from the national press to his comments was: “So some….paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I’m the Antichrist. I give up.” His apparently final message is “Bye bye”.

Much of the criticism leveled at Social Media recently refers to its apparent “dark side”. It’s true that there is a huge amount of potential negativity amongst any audience and especially in those who are, like many users of Twitter, highly motivated to make their voice heard. This can be both a good and a bad thing, as seen in the very public Social Media “fails” of Trafigura and Nestle.

However, as much as Stephen may have found the comments hurtful and feel slighted by the press’ reaction to his comments on marriage, he above all people should know exactly how useful Twitter and other Social Media platforms can be in launching, maintaining and rebuilding a personal “brand”.

He should also be very much aware that if you do become an early and vocal adopter of any developing communication platform, you are opening up the brand in question (and yourself) to a very vocal and constantly changing conversation. Many Social Media commentators make the point that this conversation “goes on without you”, and they’re entirely right.

We’ve very recently seen in the story involving Kanye West “following” one of his teenage fans that the instant fame which Twitter can generate in a time when even CNN and Sky News refer to comments from the “Twitterati” when reporting breaking stories or gauging public opinion is not always welcome.

As much as Stephen has been able to use Twitter to find a number of different leases on his own public life, even going so far as to become a de facto technology reporter and commentator on the Digital Economy Act, it’s hard to believe that he didn’t realise that a backlash was only a Tweet away.

Whatever prevailing opinion may prove to be on Stephen “quitting” Twitter (and it’s likely to be a little cynical, given as he has threatened to do so before), it’s important to remember that what he says tends to be very widely reported – news of his first departure was reported in the New York and Sunday Times. Even news of his being stuck in a lift broke through Twitter and became a story with a life of its own.

The moral of the story seems to be that living your life online to such an extent really does demonstrate the force behind another current argument in social Media – “the end of forgetting”. Stephen has the option of referring the Observer to the Press Complaints Commission if he was in fact misquoted, but taking action against the online community is always more problematic.

It’s interesting and probably unwise that Stephen posted behind-the-scenes photos from Warner Brothers’ “Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows” (almost certainly in breach of a confidentiality agreement) shortly after agreeing to star as Sherlock Holmes’ brother Mycroft in the sequel to Warners’ own very successful 2009 film starring Robert Downey, Jr.

Whatever Stephen ultimately decides to do, the conversation will go on without him, and if he really does decide to give up on his hundreds of thousands of followers then he may prove to be a cautionary tale on the pitfalls of the new media landscape, where every opinion can be heard more quickly than ever, even if it’s defamatory, inaccurate or simply what you don’t want to hear.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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