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March 02, 2012
Is all that Twitters gold?
By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *

I recently learned that some celebrities are making thousands by tweeting. I know – where have I been for the past six years, under a rock?

Not exactly, but I don’t tweet, SMS or Facebook. So, I am a bit out of the mainstream. So, I was astonished to read that Kim Kardashian, who, if not the queen, is certainly one of the ladies-in-waiting of Twitter, may make as much as $10,000 for a tweet.

How can something described by its inventor as "a short burst of inconsequential information” have become such a money maker? Even those in love with the quickest of social networking tools admit that more than half the 250 million tweets sent every day are pointless or, at best, one person asking another person what they are doing. So, where does the dough come into the mix?

The answer is simple, of course—advertising. Celebs with huge Twitter followings are paid thousands by sponsors to send tweets about products or events. These sponsored tweets are required to be labeled with #ad, called a hashtag, to signify that they are promotional advertising.

However, thanks to the professional stylings of the ghost-tweeters who work for the stars, the product-pushing missives appear like casual comments from friend to friend. The only difference is that the personal advice goes to 17 million friends and the sender gets paid.

Now we know what makes the caged bird tweet.

Of course, not all the tweets a mega-celeb sends are money makers. In fact, Twitter pundits caution celebs to be careful not to “overload” their flow of 140 character bursts of “inconsequential information” with ads—lest the followers become conscious of and balk at the very “consequential” nature of some tweets. The experts suggest it is best to keep money-making versus real tweets at a respectable ratio.

What exactly would respectable mean to an egomaniac telling the world about their underwear choice?

Another worry is that, once people clearly understand that the hashtag #ad signals that what follows is an infomercial, they will regard the sponsored tweets as “tainted”. I understand the sponsors’ concern, but the fact that Justin Bieber may be being paid to suggest Supercuts to me will not be the first reason I ignore his hairstyling advice. The same is true for Lady Gaga on life in general. But, I recognize that there is a need to be discrete—however ironic the use of that word is with this medium.

My sarcastic mood on this subject may be just a cover for digital envy. The online version of my column had only 700 discrete visitors last month. (I console myself by thinking of all my newspaper readers.) But, I still cannot comprehend how a 140 character message from a star can deliver an ad effectively—unless we are more closely related to lemmings than I thought.

What concerns me is that we are getting ripped-off. Nike slipping ads among tweets of babble does not deliver the same value as supporting actual journalism. Before the internet and cell phones, companies wanting to get into our heads had to support the production of real content to wrap their advertising around. They couldn’t just toss a few bucks to a celeb for chirping out 15 words. There are only so many ad dollars and those spent on tweets produce junk.

I am not suggesting that you cannot get a lot across in a few words. Jesus could have tweeted most of his important statements with characters to spare. But, knowing that Miley Cyrus intends to scarf up biscuits and gravy after the Oscars is not news—it is voyeurism. If companies can sell their products amongst this dribble, what is the incentive to support real media?

To each his own, but there is no ignoring that today’s most popular social networking tools have set us on a path toward hyper-individualization. As a result, we are less interested in the real interaction it takes to make an actual society—like attending a school meeting. We are also less empathic and more lonely. Life in the Ethernet is vapid and self-referential to the point of making I exist therefore I exist about all we can say. So, we tweet it.

In my opinion, all that Twitters is fool’s gold at best.

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.
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