For stars, high-tech gaffes hard to hide

Nov 28, 2009 By MARTHA IRVINE , AP National Writer
In this Oct. 14, 2008 file photo, Demi Moore, right, and Ashton Kutcher arrive at Glamour Reel Moments in Los Angeles. Moore and Kutcher are among the most popular celebrities on Twitter -- and, combined, have more than 6 million followers on the site. Some wonder if celebrities, athletes and politicians are sharing too much information on social networking sites. Marketers, however, say being titillating and even controversial helps get them noticed. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

(AP) -- So, you fail to take a deep breath and to count to 10 - and you post something you probably shouldn't on Twitter or Facebook, or somewhere else online.

Hopefully, it blows over without doing too much damage. But what if you're famous and have thousands, if not millions of virtual followers?

NFL star Larry Johnson was released by the Kansas City Chiefs after questioning his coach and posting gay slurs for all the world to see. California Gov. was criticized for pulling out a big knife in a video that was posted as a "thank you" to constituents for suggesting ways to cut the state budget.

Those are but two of the recent controversies that helped ignite - and far from the last in an era when fans and gawkers are just waiting for sports stars, celebrities and politicians to say something embarrassing or naughty. New technology makes it that much easier for stars to do that.

"Yes, I get that this is a great promotional tool. It can also be a dagger if not used properly," says Matthew Pace, a New York attorney who works with agencies that manage athletes and who cautions them about the damage social networking can do to a career.

Syracuse University star receiver Mike Williams discovered those pitfalls when he was suspended from the football team this fall, and then quit shortly after saying he hated college on his page.

"I can't see me doing this for long ... hint, hint," Williams also wrote, according to the Syracuse student newspaper.

Those kinds of posts are causing more universities, pro teams and even some movie studios to try to clamp down on the off-the-cuff content their stars put online. Or, at the very least, celebs of all kinds are being encouraged to think before they post.

Sometimes, it's about protecting reputations. In other cases, it's about keeping sensitive information from leaking.

One could argue that some celebrities, athletes and politicians have done a pretty good job of making fools of themselves for a long time without social networking.

"But there may be a tendency even for really high-profile people to forget that any content you post online is a public statement - and that it is as public as any television or print interview," says Nancy Flynn, a corporate consultant who heads the Ohio-based ePolicy Institute. "It's in your words, so you can't say, 'Well, I was misquoted.'"

However, while there are obvious dangers, all of this "microblogging," as it's known, can be worth the risk: Fans like having this kind of direct access to public figures and can be quite loyal to those who are good at it.

And even if there's an online stumble, here or there, well, that can just make celebs seem more real.

"It's a way to understand that they are human," says April Francis, a 26-year-old Chicagoan who works as an "identity consultant," which includes help with wardrobe, branding and public relations for her clients.

On Twitter, she follows everyone from burlesque performer Dita Von Teese to basketball star Shaquille O'Neal - but recently dropped author Margaret Atwood because she thought Atwood was "mind-blowingingly boring."

For a lot of fans, it is that - not controversy - that's the kiss of death these days.

"It comes down to the interest factor," says Allen Chen, a 30-year-old university worker from Yonkers, N.Y., who follows several professional athletes and authors on Twitter and thinks it's best when they are "funny, entertaining and snarky." He recently dropped a former New York Knick (Stephon Marbury) and a current one (Nate Robinson) because he says they were none of those things.

Sometimes it's the celebrity who loses interest in social networking. Teen pop star Miley Cyrus recently stopped tweeting because she grew weary of tabloids using material she posted.

More often, though, Hollywood types are more than happy to share what some might consider too much information, evidenced on Wonderwall.com, a site that tracks some of the more questionable or buzz-worthy things celebrities tweet.

Consider this one from singer John Mayer: "If you ever see me out and about and I'm punching myself in the pants, leave me be. Personal lessons are being taught/learned."

Or actress Demi Moore: "grabbing my hubby and putting on my birthday suit.....to snuggle.......goooood night. until tomorrow!"

It's all part of the growing school of thought that controversy, or titillation, actually helps a celebrity's career by getting them noticed, says Richard Laermer, a New York publicist.

"The new PR is about fame that starts and stops with everything that people hear about you. So in order to rise above the noise, you have to be outrageous and controversial," says Laermer, who talks about the trend in his book "2011: Trendspotting."

Of course, there are limits, he says, noting that most high-profile people generally don't go "astray from who they want their fans to think they are."

In some instances, a few celebrities and athletes have managed to use social networking to help resurrect their images. Chad Ochocinco, the brassy wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, is one of them and even has his own iPhone application.

"It's not that often that I am blown away by a celeb or an athlete, nor am I a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals by any stretch. I am however, now a big fan of Chad Ochocinco," says Natalie Svider, who works for a digital marketing agency in Los Angeles. "His ability to completely transform the public's perception of him in such a short time and the fact that he is one of the few players that really and truly connects with his fans, is what got me hooked."

In the end, some also might argue that the damage players such as Larry Johnson and Mike Williams did to their reputations likely won't be that long-lasting.

Johnson is now playing for the Bengals, a team known for taking on troubled players, though he's a backup running back. And some suspect Williams, who was a junior at Syracuse, will surface in next year's NFL draft.

Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, shrugged when some criticized him for using the knife to make light of the budget-cutting process. He said he doesn't want to be seen as "El Stiffo," insinuating that his predecessors might have been a little boring.

Still, with elections at stake and endorsement and movie deals to be lost, those who track social networking say there's a difference between being controversial and too controversial.

"Modern athletes are highly trained on how to handle the local beat reporter, but the ability to speak in real-time in a personal-yet-public space is something that they are clearly learning how to navigate as they go," says Aaron Smith, a research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "The norms of what is acceptable in those settings is clearly evolving."

On the Net:

Larry Johnson's site: http://www.toonicon.com/

Schwarzenegger video: http://tiny.cc/hCK7R

Ochocinco's page: http://twitter.com/OGOchoCinco

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: US warns shops to watch for customer data hacking

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tennis officials a-Twitter: US Open players warned

Aug 29, 2009

(AP) -- Watch what you tweet. That's the message tennis authorities are delivering as the U.S. Open gets set to start Monday, telling players and their entourages to be careful about what they post on the social networking ...

Recommended for you

US warns shops to watch for customer data hacking

7 hours ago

The US Department of Homeland Security on Friday warned businesses to watch for hackers targeting customer data with malicious computer code like that used against retail giant Target.

Fitbit to Schumer: We don't sell personal data

22 hours ago

The maker of a popular line of wearable fitness-tracking devices says it has never sold personal data to advertisers, contrary to concerns raised by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Should you be worried about paid editors on Wikipedia?

Aug 22, 2014

Whether you trust it or ignore it, Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world and accessed by millions of people every day. So would you trust it any more (or even less) if you knew people ...

How much do we really know about privacy on Facebook?

Aug 22, 2014

The recent furore about the Facebook Messenger app has unearthed an interesting question: how far are we willing to allow our privacy to be pushed for our social connections? In the case of the Facebook ...

Philippines makes arrests in online extortion ring

Aug 22, 2014

Philippine police have arrested eight suspected members of an online syndicate accused of blackmailing more than 1,000 Hong Kong and Singapore residents after luring them into exposing themselves in front of webcam, an official ...

Google to help boost Greece's tourism industry

Aug 21, 2014

Internet giant Google will offer management courses to 3,000 tourism businesses on the island of Crete as part of an initiative to promote the sector in Greece, industry union Sete said on Thursday.

User comments : 0