In recent weeks the news has been dominated with reports about cyber 'trolling' or in layman's terms, abuse or harassment posted on social networking sites. Celebrities in particular have become targets of such cyber 'trolls' from Ashton Kutcher to the lesser-known, former TV presenter Richard Bacon. After much distress, he recently spoke out about being 'stalked' by a Twitter 'troll' for two years. He had received obscene posts about himself and his family with the 'troll' even fantasising about his death. Thus, exposing the darker and more dangerous side of such social networking sites.
But while celebrities use the popular sites to endorse their latest projects (who needs a PR team when you have followers?) are the celebs partly to blame? Don't get me wrong, I would never condone any form of abusive behaviour. But surely, if you are making yourself far too accessible, it is inevitable that you would attract some rather 'unhinged' undesirables. Unlike the customary celebrity stalker, the key thing that makes 'trolling' more commonplace is the veil of anonymity that protects such cyber bullies. Now it seems the benefits of social networking sites have unwittingly given the bullies the upper hand.
I recall growing up listening to my favourite idols such as Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey and thinking what a dream it would be to be in their presence let alone 'tweet' them directly. Back in the day there was something enigmatic and unattainable about your favourite artists or Hollywood movie actors. And while they seemed out of reach we all aspired to one day get close to them in some shape or form. Even an autograph or signed copy of a T-shirt was enough to warrant a gush of excitement and something to 'tell the grandkids'! But we would never have imagined having a 'tete-a tete' with them online.
Nowadays, that sense of mystique has dissipated. Dedicated fans (or stalkers) can simply 'tweet' their favourite stars and be unfazed by the distinction between Joe/Jane Bloggs and the 'superstar'. Indeed, you get your fame 'wannabes' who take full advantage of social networking sites because quite frankly they need all the publicity they can get but what of those who don't actually need it?
Celebrities seem quite happy to bare all about their personal lives, what's on their minds and what they are doing...right now! They can post personal pictures and share them with their followers and they can be as unreserved as they like. Because they can! The concept of 'oversharing' has seemingly become the trend and nothing seems sacred anymore. The superstar diva Mariah Carey who is dedicated to her Twitter followers or 'lambs' is an example and even Beyonce has decided to jump on the Twitter bandwagon by finally joining the site and sharing personal, family snaps.
Fortunately, as a journalist I have had the pleasure of meeting some of my idols but if I wasn't in this business I wonder whether I would have been frantically tweeting Mariah with the hope that she would actually respond or 'retweet'. While it is refreshing to know that celebrities are only human like us mere mortals and can be accessible online, I do miss the nostalgia of stars having that aura of enigma and exclusivity about them. After all, less is more..
Follow Cynthia Lawrence on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Cynteee