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May 23, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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I’m Famous on the Internets!

The internet is a funny place for fame. Today there are so many social networking sites out there that we can accumulate hundreds of friends without ever leaving the house. What does this mean for good ol’ social interaction? More importantly, what does it mean for celebrities?

The average follower number on twitter is 125 people, and the average Facebook user has 130 friends. Offline, the number of so-called true friends varies little. Historically, one relied on family for support and friendships, while a 1985 study indicated Americans on average had 3 friends to confide in. More recently, figures from 2006 indicate this number has dropped to two (Lynn Smith-Lovin, 2006), which may raise alarmist bells, but when one compares this to the number of friends we count on Facebook… Well, life may not be as terrible as it seems. The difference between online friends, counted in the tens to hundreds, and offline acquaintances or friends, counted on the fingers and toes, is stark, and not for the reasons we think.

The internet gives us a platform to voice our opinions to complete strangers, and, on social media, a dedicated person can continue to ‘add’ strangers and get at least a word in edgeways. Being interesting, insightful, funny, or caustic may bump up followers. Regular, ‘boring’ communication will do nothing for one’s influence. Compare, for instance, the following tweets:

“Kind of digging soft curls with a side part. A good change from straight with a middle part?” – Demi Moore, A-list actor

with…

“So he likes drugs and hookers. That’s the mustard & mayo on the sandwich of life. Problem is, that’s all he’s got on his fucking sandwich.”- @shitmydadsays (Justin Halpern, unknown American who still lives at home)

…and guess which one ended up with its own TV series. Most internet users spend around a minute on any given internet page. With such short attention spans, one must be, and remain, interesting, or they will simply sink back into the ether to anyone who comes across them. @shitmydadsays, for instance, regularly has upwards 100 people ‘retweeting’ (reposting on their own pages) each post, showing that upwards of 100 people were in some way actually interested or affected by what they have read.

Because page views, friend lists, and follower numbers can be misleading, fame relative to the internet is best measured by influence. Western celebrities may have a completely different type of influence and relationships than mere ‘regular’ people—what they say, how they act, what they wear, can directly influence people who do nothing more than see a picture of them in a magazine. A study completed in 2004 showed two types of celebrity attachment among teenagers, with “peer interaction” being the most important feature of healthy celebrity attachments. That is, most teenagers regularly kept up to date with celebrities lives and actions with their friends. Celebrities quickly become “an extended social network–a group of ‘pseudo-friends’” who have stronger influence on their opinions than their parents or other role models. In this way celebrities become very influential to teen followers regardless of their intentions. It takes a bit more than a high ‘friend’ count on Facebook or Twitter, for one to be well known on the internet without putting in the hard yards.

Stephen Fry, for instance, perhaps less well-known than Demi Moore outside of cyberspace, has over 2 million twitter followers, and regularly causes websites to crash when he directs followers there. Fry talks not only with his followers, but refers to any organisation, film, book or interview he is a part of, while Moore does significantly less. So, Fry’s ability to network and link followers from one group to another not only increases the likelihood his followers will look at other things he is involved in, but also makes it easier for people who are a part of projects, charities or films, to find him online. So, Stephen Fry, although many of his ‘tweets’ are quite dull (“Know anyone web-rubbish? Set up some Internet Buttons for them to make the internet supereasy”), has a large sphere of influence on the internet, as he seemingly could recommend dirt as a salad seasoning and have thousands at least try it.

Is internet fame somehow more legitimate than offline fame? Well, it is probably more measurable, in terms of tracking where one’s words and photos end up. Unless one is already famous, unlike traditional media, Internet fame does require some form of longevity and networking. Depending on the day of the week, or even the mood of 4chan, anyone with anything remotely interesting may get their 15 minutes of fame. It’s keeping the spotlight there, and networking, that brings Internet fame, and it’s a lot harder than we would like to think.

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  1. Beth says:

    In his lovely way, has Stephen Fry become the Oprah of the Twitter world?
    PS QI is quite possibly the best tv quiz show on earth

  2. Zoe Reid says:

    He has!! Well, feels like it. Apparently Demi Kutcher is really twitter-famous, but reading through her posts, G-d knows why..

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