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Social Capital: There’s Only Love and Fear: On Cher’s Twitter


Credit Screenshot from Twitter. Animation by Jessica Tang.

Welcome to Social Capital, a series devoted to analyzing the social media presences of celebrities.

No one would blame you if you dismissed Cher’s Twitter feed as the unhinged ramblings of an out-of-touch celebrity, someone desperately in need of intervention by a publicist or a sympathetic assistant. To the casual observer, Cher’s tweets are barely decipherable.

She pays little to no attention to rules of grammar, like punctuation or sentence structure, and she capitalizes many words individually, causing her messages to read like bad novelty T-shirts or mock propaganda posters. She frequently — and comically — tacks on extra signoffs at the end of her tweets (“I was looking at tweets & saw that i really hurt someones feelings ! Im sorry. It was light blue background with white egg shape . Bye” ). She loves to load her tweets with emojis — her favorites include the birthday cake, sweat droplets, prayer hands and the American flag — even if they aren’t related to the subject matter of her message. It’s a type of unmoored candor that we typically associate with celebrities who are on the verge of a downward spiral. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for Cher.

Sometimes Cher herself seems mystified by her cryptic missives. Take, for example, a recent post in which she posted a gorgeous, lavender-washed photograph of her younger self, midsway on the dance floor, alongside the inexplicably confusing caption: “Girls just want to have Fun … Was a crazy day … wanted to post this in a.m … But Don’t think I Did,” followed by several emojis, including the ghost and the “tears of joy” smiley face. The day after Christmas, she wrote, “Adults are SO PACMAN,” and a few weeks before that, she posted a message that simply said: “We Should B Vigilant, Aware Of Our Surroundings‼️ Something‼️Say Something‼️ONE BIG CATCH,WE ALL HAVE OUR GLUDED 2 OUR PHONES‼️WENOTHING.”

A decent number of her tweets seem as if they might have been cut-and-pasted into the wrong bubble on her iPad, as if they were meant for a private interaction, rather than for consumption by the 2.7 million people who follow her: “Ask Andy, what he wants me to do.” On another occasion, without any context or explanation, she fired off a tweet that said, “Stanley Tucci is a Brat.”

But if you follow her feed long enough, a logical, or at least intelligible, character begins to emerge from the chaos. Cher seems healthy and happy, proud of her two adorable boy kittens and hard at work on a line of branded swag that includes coffee mugs and T-shirts. She affectionately refers to her followers as chickadees, using the baby-chicken emoji combined with the letters “adees” to get her point across. She’s an outspoken critic of Donald Trump and an activist. In mid-January, she donated cases of water to Flint, Mich., in the wake of the news that the town’s supply was contaminated with lead, and encouraged other celebrities to do the same.

Eventually, you realize that Cher uses Twitter in its purest and most organic form: a catchall for any and every thought that might drift into her brain. Her methodology is messy and strange in a way that feels borderline extinct at a time when celebrities and aspiring celebrities treat their social-media presence as endless personal infomercials, vehicles for inciting envy and lust as a means of increasing visibility, and in turn, popularity. Most celebrities’ social-media feeds feel painfully self-aware and thirsty — revealing their desperate desire to seem relevant, in on the joke, caught up on the latest Internet memes and trends. (A classic example: When Katy Perry invoked Pepe, a creepy cartoon frog favored by 4chan users, to describe her jet lag last year, some Internet users complained that the meme had become too mainstream.) In her own way, Cher is an outlier, perhaps the last unreconstructed high-profile Twitter user to stand at her digital pulpit and yell (somewhat) incomprehensibly, and be rewarded for it.

Online, authenticity and originality are often carefully curated myths. Cher thrives on a version of nakedness and honesty that is rarely celebrated in the public eye. Software edits out acne, brightens our complexions and generally buffs away most of the unintentional sloppiness from our photos, while auto-correct keeps us from betraying what information we don’t know — in turn, erasing much of the humanity from the versions of ourselves that we publish online. One oddity of Cher’s hyperhuman approach to Twitter is that, in its nonsensicality, it resembles the feed of an automated spambot, causing Cher — of all people — to reveal how stiff and mechanical most humans have evolved into portraying themselves online.

I love Cher’s Twitter because I have difficulty achieving perfection online. I often omit key words from tweets and captions without ever noticing it, use hyphens incorrectly, deploy improper spacing and forget to fix typos before publishing to my personal feeds. I wish I could say that my approach comes from an unbridled sense of irreverence and creativity, as Cher’s does, but it’s closer to a more prosaic carelessness.

But perhaps I can learn a lesson from Cher — to not be afraid to let the world know that it is actually me tweeting, not a social-media intern or a younger, savvier relative. Perhaps I, like Cher, will reach my true potential when I stop trying to be “good” at Twitter and just let my natural self flow.


NYT > Technology

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