What is up with all the celebrity feuds on Twitter? It seems like a week can’t go by without hearing about a tweet-off between Adam Levine and Lady Gaga, Perez Hilton and Lady Gaga, or Kanye West and Jimmy Kimmel. And it seems like Alec Baldwin and Amanda Bynes use Twitter to sound off against… well, just about anyone. It’s a trend of digital passive aggression which reminds me of a simple life lesson: if you have something to say, be brave enough to say it to someone’s face.
It’s hardly new that we see celebrities fighting with each other through the media. Long before Twitter and Facebook, stars could express their opinions about other celebs via press conferences, in media interviews, or whenever a camera was on. But social networking sites have made this far easier. It digitally expanded the battlefield by giving celebrities platforms to publicize comments whenever they want. Social media also enables spontaneity; tweets and Facebook posts can be fired off in the heat of the moment, without review by publicists, managers and other handlers. And once the first digital salvo is launched, the flames can be quickly fanned by, well, the fans as they virally spread messages to support their beloved idol.
Heck, celebs don’t even have to name the subject of their Twitter-cism. Recently, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine took on Lady Gaga by tweeting “Ugh… recycling old art for a younger generation doesn’t make you an artist. It makes you an art teacher.” Though he did not specifically name Lady Gaga, his tweet was widely viewed as a slam against the pop diva’s new “Applause” video which references famous artistic works. Ms. Gaga responded: “Uh oh guys the art police is here.”
It’s not just fellow celebrities who can be caught in a star’s Twitter cross hairs. In 2011, Alec Baldwin famously railed against a flight attendant who asked him to turn off his mobile device while he was playing Words with Friends. This March, Charlie Sheen (who is no stranger to Twitter controversy) was upset when his young daughter was bullied at school (including because he was fired from sitcom Two and a Half Men.) He asked his nine million Twitter followers to fight back by delivering “a rotted egg,” “a roll of toilet paper,” or “some dog sh*t” to the bullies.
Certainly, some of these Twitter “feuds” are heightened by media attention and the public’s rabid appetite for celeb gossip — which can blow a seemingly innocent 140-character message out of proportion. I’m also a proponent of free expression; celebrities should certainly use the power of digital technology to express themselves and respond to attacks if they choose.
But public figures need to remember that what they say — whether in traditional or digital media — carries extra interest. If stars have negative feelings about another celebrity, a flight attendant who orders them to turn off a mobile device, or grade-schoolers who bully their daughter, they are entitled to those personal opinions. But before celebs vent on Twitter, they should consider the valor of remaining silent — because the best course of action can often be to not speak at all. And if the desire to speak nevertheless wins out, I wish stars would consider saying something directly to the target of their frustration rather than indirectly through social media. Social networking should be a tool we use to broaden discussion, rather than a crutch we invoke to avoid speaking directly to each other.
Sure, after Amanda Bynes tweeted that Rihanna “look so ugly tryin to be white,” it’s probably too optimistic to think the two ladies will have tea to sort through their differences. And some feuding celebrities may have never even met and could have no desire to resolve their Twitter debates. That’s certainly their prerogative. But at some point, it’s better for the soul to make peace, forgive, and move on.
Direct communication is the best way to do so. It’s never easy to talk to someone who has upset you, when you have something negative to say or with a fight in the air. But communicating through conflict is an important life skill to learn — whether your Twitter followers number 10 million or just 10.