When a popular musician joins Twitter, mobs of excited fans say they can’t wait to hear directly from their hero. But often the famous name on the account is just a front for an anonymous celebrity shill. Is it time for Twitter to be more honest about authenticity?
The latest case in point is Neil Young who joined Twitter yesterday. Thousands are already following him, presumably to hear the rock legend wax about life and love in 140 characters. But the debut has so far been a flop.
Young’s inaugural three tweets haven’t been about rocking in the free world or even the Canadian prairie. Instead, they form a small stream of promotional pap:
See the @rollingstone exclusive premiere of the new video for, “Walk Like a Giant”: bitly.com/QSj1hD #PsychPill
— Neil Young (@neilyoung) September 25, 2012
Ps. @neilyoung fans, our #LegendsOnTwitter fan Q&A with him will happen in… OCTOBER! So get ready! #PsychPill
— Twitter Music (@TwitterMusic) September 25, 2012
And so on. It’s pretty clear that whoever is writing and tweeting this stuff isn’t Neil Young. Heck, for all we know, Young doesn’t hasn’t even used Twitter in his life.
This is grating on a number of levels. For one, it’s annoying to see such blatant commercial tactics from an artist who famously refuses to license his songs to advertisers. While philosophy or song lyrics might be a tall order, some fans expected something better:
Here’s hoping we hear from the master @neilyoung himself, and not just some PR dweeb tasked with social media duties
— Neil Brennan (@nellob) September 26, 2012
Young, of course, is hardly the first musician to give the keys to his Twitter account to a publicist. Bob Dylan as well as numerous celebrities and politicians have done the same. It’s still a disappointment though, considering how other creative figures like Margaret Atwood have used Twitter as an authentic extension of their own voice. (Twitter didn’t help matters by having its publicist hype that “Neil Young” was on Twitter).
More broadly, the Neil Young episode raises questions about rights of identity in the age of social media. Companies like Facebook are already trying to ban fake names to appease advertisers and one day Twitter may try to do the same. If it does, will there be an exception that allows the rich or famous to keep their fake accounts? Or is it time for companies to start flagging the difference between brand and personal accounts?